One of New Haven’s most hard-fought mayoral elections in years came to the Yale campus Thursday.

The Yale College Democrats announced its endorsement of Mayor John DeStefano Jr. after hosting an open meeting with him and state Sen. Martin Looney, his opponent in Tuesday’s Democratic mayoral primary. After the mayor and his challenger exchanged blows in independent speeches, students said they were won over by the mayor’s involvement with the Yale community.

“The majority of the group felt his group had made the greatest effort to reach out to students,” said Abbey Hudson ’03, president of the Dems. “We’ve seen him as an avenue to help people get involved in the city.”

The Executive Committee of the Dems kept its vote-tally confidential.

Hudson added that while the chief motivation behind the endorsement was DeStefano’s level of involvement in the community, several members also felt strongly about the mayor’s vision for the city.

Looney campaign manager Jason Bartlett said he was not surprised with the endorsement, given that his counterpart in the DeStefano campaign, Julio Gonzalez ’99, is an alumnus and former alderman in Ward 1, which covers a lot of Yale’s campus.

“Julio had a head start in terms of talking to people, but I think that when the Yale community catches up with the issues and catches up with how ethically challenged DeStefano is, they’ll support Looney,” Bartlett said.

Each candidate spoke for half-an-hour to an audience of about 35 students in Dwight Hall. Both appeared confident as they delivered opening statements and fielded questions.

DeStefano admitted the race is competitive — a fact he attributed to the current political situation within New Haven’s Democratic Party.

“This is going be the closest election I’ve had because the party leadership is not on the side of the incumbent,” DeStefano said.

DeStefano was alluding to the alienation of Democratic Town Chairman Nick Balletto, who managed his previous mayoral campaigns but is now supporting Looney.

Sounding the same themes he has been repeating at speeches and debates throughout the campaign, DeStefano said New Haven has made great strides since he was first elected in 1993. He cited a reduction in crime, increased accessibility to public services, improved public housing and a school system that draws 900 suburban children to its magnet schools.

“This city knows itself a lot better than it did eight years ago,” the mayor said.

Looney countered that the DeStefano administration has failed to capitalize on a strong national and state economy, has ignored students in non-magnet schools, has developed bad relationships with regional leaders and has disillusioned the public with a long string of scandals.

“The last eight years really have represented a time of missed opportunities,” he said.

Looney has criticized the DeStefano administration for being too quick to cooperate with Yale.

Hudson said she was pleased that both candidates agreed to come to campus on very short notice, and said both campaigns have been cooperative with the Dems.

The winner of the primary will face Republican Joel Schiavone ’58 in November’s general election.