Mayor John DeStefano Jr. urged freshmen who packed the Branford College common room Monday evening to engage in the political life of their new home.

DeStefano, who spoke to about 100 students at the Yale College Democrats’ first meeting of the year, emphasized student involvement in the Democratic Party at the local, state and national levels. DeStefano, who is currently campaigning for governor in 2006, underscored the strengths of the Democratic Party at Yale and in New Haven.

“You come to a great city,” DeStefano said. “[We are] a party that will welcome your efforts and your ideas, and because we’re Democrats, we’re not afraid to challenge each other’s ideas.”

DeStefano said political involvement is a right that every citizen can enjoy, and that there is no better place than New Haven to become active in politics.

The mayor also took time to criticize the Bush administration’s response to the devastation caused by Hurricane Katrina, as well as the government’s underfunding of FEMA. DeStefano made a final appeal to the audience for their support and involvement in future debates.

“What you’ll find in New Haven is an attitude towards student involvement that is very open and welcoming,” he said. “What university students provide is a lot of energy, a lot of ideas, and a lot of willingness to push.”

Yale College Democrats president Alissa Stollwerk ’06 said she was excited by the large turnout of freshmen.

“The Class of 2009 is a really energized and excited bunch,” she said. “I think freshmen know that we’re one of the largest progressive groups on campus and an important vehicle for change on a local, state and national level.”

Stollwerk said freshman involvement is essential to the club’s future as well as politics in general, as most freshmen will be able to vote for the first time this November.

Timothy Kau ’09 said that he had already planned to become involved politically before attending the meeting, but that he enjoyed DeStefano’s remarks on the differences between Democratic and Republican policy, noting the mayor’s emphasis on helping the victims of the hurricane. Kau said he plans to assist the Yale College Democrats with their voter registration drives this week.

After hearing the mayor’s speech, Joel Nezianya ’09 said he now intends to be involved in both DeStefano’s mayoral and gubernatorial campaigns.

“It’ll help me figure out where I stand, and attending the Yale Dems meetings will help affirm or contradict my own political views,” he said. “For me, this is all more of an exploration of my own political stance.”

DeStefano is the lead fund-raiser among Democrats in Connecticut’s gubernatorial campaign. Even as he prepares for his run for the state’s top job, DeStefano will remain up for mayoral reelection this November. If elected, he will serve his seventh term.