Though they may not be able to vote for more than a decade, it’s possible infants and toddlers are the most important New Haven inhabitants to Mayor John DeStefano Jr. as he prepares to enter his fifth term as mayor.

At a Master’s Tea Tuesday in Branford College, DeStefano spoke with approximately 20 Yale students and faculty about his ambitions for New Haven in 2002. While he emphasized the importance of city housing and architecture, DeStefano said his central focus in the next two years will be on the development of pre-kindergarten age children.

DeStefano said his administration wants to bring the number of 3- and 4-year-olds attending a school environment as close to 100 percent as possible. The number of 3- and 4-year-olds enrolled currently stands at about 75 percent.

“Did you know the best predictor of whether a child is successful or not is his mother’s level of education?” DeStefano asked.

DeStefano said the period from birth to age 5 is the most formative time in a child’s development and the most neglected by society.

“Healthy communities derive from healthy kids,” DeStefano said.

DeStefano said another crucial issue facing New Haven in 2000 will likely be the plans to expand the stretch of Interstate 95 on Long Wharf to eight lanes. The mayor said he wants the section made below grade level due to the noise the highway creates. He added that the design of the Pearl Harbor Memorial Bridge, a 7.2-mile long suspension bridge to be built over the New Haven Harbor, will be of additional interest to the city.

During the event, DeStefano addressed several student questions relating to New Haven. Jennifer Walk ’04 asked the mayor what Yale students unfamiliar with New Haven should know about the city.

“The most important thing to know is that there is a lot to know,” DeStefano said.

DeStefano added that Yalies should attend churches throughout the city to get a feel for New Haven’s diversity of people and culture.

Joseph Ferrucci ARC ’02 was interested in DeStefano’s thoughts on New Haven’s architectural future. DeStefano replied by saying how much he disliked the shoebox-shaped buildings built in the 1960s, excluding Yale’s School of Architecture.

“I would tear down Chapel Square Mall if I could,” DeStefano said.

Branford Master Steven Smith said the mayor should strongly consider a sports complex for the Long Wharf waterfront comparable to the one at Chelsea Piers in New York. DeStefano said he would support the project if Smith could convince someone to build the complex for free, because of financial constraints.

“We have an interesting relationship with the state where they talk a lot to Waterbury, Bridgeport and Hartford, but not to us,” DeStefano said in reference to the allotment of state funds.

DeStefano added that his job forces him to make hard choices with few resources.

“You know what the biggest complaint I got going door to door during the campaign?” DeStefano asked his audience. “Sidewalks. People want their sidewalks repaired.”