In a speech before the Yale Corporation Friday evening, New Haven Mayor John DeStefano Jr. reiterated his support for Corporation hopeful the Rev. W. David Lee DIV ’93 and urged the University’s highest policy making body to avoid disruptive confrontations with its labor unions.

DeStefano’s presence at the dinner comes just two weeks after he endorsed Lee’s unorthodox candidacy at a Jan. 25 fund-raiser, but Yale President Richard Levin said he first asked DeStefano to speak last November. Lee earned a spot on the ballot after receiving support via petitions.

DeStefano said he was unable to attend the December meeting because of scheduling conflicts.

“We have an informal discussion before we sit down to dinner, so we have had many of the deans — sometimes professors — come and talk about their research,” Levin said. “We made a special invitation to have the mayor come.”

DeStefano spoke to the Corporation about the state of town-gown relations.

“We talked a bit about the city’s relationship with the University and where it needs to go,” DeStefano said. “I said I thought that the relationship is improving dramatically and that we needed to look at new ways to articulate it.”

DeStefano also told the 16 Corporation members that the city does not want Yale to fund the hiring of New Haven school teachers, despite what a union-backed community organization suggested in a report released last week.

“I did make reference to the report to suggest I did not feel it was the role of the University to fulfill the role of the state of Connecticut and fund education,” DeStefano said. “I said they did have a role to support the growth of wealth in the community. The University does have a role to play with education, but I said I felt it had more to do with other capacities.”

Expanding on part of his Feb. 4 State of the City address, the mayor said he also told the Corporation that Yale should recognize separate organizing efforts by graduate students and workers at Yale-New Haven Hospital.

“I told them that organizing drives of GESO and the hospital need to be taken into account,” DeStefano said. “I said they wouldn’t get where they needed to go without them, which is what John Stepp has said.”

Yale and locals 34 and 35 agreed to hire Stepp as a consultant this fall to assess the institution’s labor-management relationship. The University opposes graduate student unionization and has said it is not in a position to recognize workers at the hospital.

“I told them I felt that they, just like the unions, should take the labor relationship to a place that’s less confrontational and more productive,” DeStefano said.

One sticking point in Yale’s relationship with its bargaining units is Lee, who is running an unorthodox campaign for one of the Corporation’s six alumni slots. The minister of the Varick Memorial AME Zion Church on Dixwell Avenue, Lee received financial support from the labor unions, and his candidacy has been backed by several city officials, including DeStefano.

“I indicated that I felt that David Lee would be a valuable member of the Corporation,” DeStefano said. “He has a set of experiences — that would complement those of the current Corporation members.”

University Secretary Linda Lorimer said the evening marked the first time DeStefano had ever spoken in front of the trustees.

“Mayor DeStefano has — for the past several years — come for Commencement and joined with the Corporation at Commencement,” said Lorimer. “This was the first time he had had an opportunity to have a conversation with the full Corporation.”