Three New Haven mayoral candidates discussed subjects ranging from public school lunches to the city’s recent crime wave before an audience of about 150 community members at the Wexler-Grant Community School last night.

Incumbent Mayor John DeStefano Jr., independent candidate Gary Jenkins and Guilty Party write-in candidate Leslie Blatteau ’97 participated in the debate, which was hosted by the Greater New Haven chapter of the NAACP. The group holds a mayoral debate during every election cycle, although the audience this year was smaller than it has been in the past, Connecticut NAACP President Scott Esdaile said.

“It is kind of dead,” he said before the debate. “Usually this place would be packed. The last two were.”

The most heated point of debate was DeStefano’s simultaneous candidacy for Connecticut governor. Jenkins and Blatteau both claimed that he is less committed to governing New Haven than running a successful gubernatorial campaign.

“The last thing we need is an absentee mayor,” Baltteau said.

During her opening remarks, Blatteau referred to DeStefano’s administration as a “Democratic machine on its way to Hartford” and questioned DeStefano’s commitment to New Haven and its residents. Her remarks drew cheers from the audience.

DeStefano defended his candidacy by noting the improvements that have taken place during his 12 years of office and said his bid for governor would be beneficial both to New Haven and to all of Connecticut.

“It’s not just me that’s the candidate for governor,” he said. “It’s all that we have done [in New Haven].”

Jenkins, a television reporter for WTNH-TV during the 1980s, was introduced to the audience as the man who pops out of a casket in a popular local funeral home commercial. After leaving his job as a reporter, he worked as a deputy spokesman in DeStefano’s office from 1997 until 1998. Since then he has been a public works educator and a public safety information officer for the City of New Haven.

Blatteau is an outreach worker in the New Haven public schools and serves in several community organizations.

Both Jenkins and Blatteau identified the lack of affordable housing in New Haven and the need for curricular reform in the city’s public schools as two issues which the future mayor needs to address. All three candidates responded to questions from a panel of NAACP officers and the audience. The questions addressed various issues, including the recent surge in crimes perpetrated by youths on bicycles and ways for the city to prevent juvenile diabetes.

Esdaile said he thought the debate was a success.

“I think it was excellent,” he said.

Clifton Graves, political action chair for the New Haven chapter of the NAACP and moderator of the debate, attributed the relatively meager turnout to DeStefano’s popularity.

“People are not really ready and willing to challenge DeStefano,” he said. “He has been a good leader, so people have basically backed down.”

New Haven resident Evaline Vargas said she was impressed with Blatteau’s stance on affordable housing.

“I think [Blatteau] hit it right on the target when she talked about housing,” she said.

West Haven resident Susan Robinson said she attended the debate in order to become acquainted with those who may succeed DeStefano if he becomes governor. She said she thought DeStefano came out on top during the debate.

“I thought the current mayor was the strongest candidate on stage,” she said.

The mayoral election will be held on Nov. 8.