Their arms laden with signs supporting Presidential candidate John Kerry ’66 and other local and national candidates, New Haven Democrats gathered last night to hear party leaders speak about the upcoming presidential election.

An estimated 100 people met at the Hall of Records on Orange Street for the final Democratic Town Committee meeting in New Haven before Nov. 2. Party delegates — including New Haven Mayor John DeStefano Jr. and most of the city’s state senators and representatives — delivered speeches attacking the Bush administration and calling Kerry supporters to action in the upcoming election.

Speaking first, DeStefano said the Bush administration had cut or planned to cut a number of programs essential to New Haven, including Community Oriented Policing Services, which he said had allowed the city to hire 87 much-needed police officers.

“Everything we care about, this administration wants to hurt and cut back,” DeStefano said.

The mayor also praised the city’s Democratic Party organization, calling it the strongest of its kind in Connecticut.

“Being a New Haven Democrat means something,” he said. “We have two state senators and six state representatives. It’s a matter of pride and purpose.”

Democratic state chairman George Jepsen, who took the podium next, echoed DeStefano’s criticisms of Bush and stressed the importance of the election in shaping America’s domestic policy.

“This is the most important election since 1932, with the establishment of the New Deal,” Jepsen said. “This administration has shredded more than 70 years of social programs.”

State Sen. Toni Harp followed by saying the Bush administration’s cutbacks would lead to serious consequences.

“This administration is finding very shaky ways to erode the progress we’ve made, especially in health care,” Harp said. “What they’ve done will ultimately devastate our communities.”

Suzie Voigt, chair of the Democratic Town Committee, said she was impressed by the number of people involved in voter registration efforts this year, lauding community members who were unable to attend the meeting because they were busy registering voters.

Five of New Haven’s six representatives in the state assembly also spoke, painting the Bush administration in stark terms. State Rep. Pat Dillon said she did not approve of the administration’s treatment of soldiers who have returned from Iraq, especially members of the National Guard, who she said do not receive the same health benefits as other soldiers.

“This administration is pro-defense contractor, but anti-soldier,” Dillon said. “They are outsourcing this war and treating the National Guard as a temp agency.”

After the speeches ended, party members applauded loudly and then quickly dispersed after organizers passed around signup sheets for mailing lists.

Linda Barone, a New Haven resident and Democratic supporter, said she came to the rally to find out about voter registration efforts.

“I had thought this would be just about the nuts and bolts of getting out the vote,” she said. “Right now, though, I guess this enthusiasm is what people need.”