Education, homelessness and the economy were the hot-button issues at a forum for state representative candidates hosted Monday night by the Yale College Democrats in the Branford College common room.

The forum, which attracted about 20 people, featured Ward 9 Alderman Roland Lemar and community activist and psychotherapist Debra Hauser, both candidates for state representative in the 96th Assembly District, which covers Hamden and New Haven.

Although Hauser spoke passionately about the issues, two students interviewed after the discussion said they found themselves attracted to Lemar’s concrete ideas about policy.

Hauser said in her opening remarks that her candidacy “is about essential fairness and equal opportunity for all.”

She said she decided to get into politics officially because she “could not believe” there were children living within a mile of her home without proper resources.

Lemar discussed policies he has pursued on in the Board of Aldermen, including environmental and safe streets legislation. He said both at the beginning and the end of the forum that he thinks the next 20 years in Connecticut will likely be decided in the first four months of January 2011.

“It’s going to take tough choices,” Lemar said in his closing remarks. “I think I have the experience and breadth of knowledge to take that leap to really start pushing both our party and our state and our government to think through some of these issues in a holistic manner.”

On the issue of education policy, Hauser focused on expanding mental health care services, while Lemar discussed individualized assessments and wraparound services for students, as well as recognizing strong teachers and leaders in schools.

Brian Bills ’11 said Hauser’s answer to his question about how the candidates would address education and the state’s achievement gap made him believe Lemar was the better candidate. Bills said that while he thought Hauser’s “heart was in the right place,” he does not believe mental health care will solve the achievement gap.

When the discussion turned to the economy, Hauser said she wants to counteract what she considers Connecticut’s “notoriously anti-business policies.”

Hauser, who worked on U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign, did not have an answer for a question about how she would address the state’s high utility costs, but Lemar proposed that the state could work to eliminate the link between profits and energy use and also establish public utility control.

Amalia Skilton ’13, Ward 1 Democratic Town Committee co-chair, said after the forum that she was impressed by Lemar’s performance.

“It was clear to me that Roland has a strong command of issues that face Connecticut as a state,” Skilton said.

State Rep. Cameron Staples currently holds the 96th Assembly District seat.