Fairfield GOP boss: Bridgeport counterpart got VIP treatment

Fairfield’s top Republican says his Bridgeport counterpart, who has publicly endorsed Linda McMahon over Chris Shays for Senate, not only admitted but bragged to him that he got VIP treatment at WrestleMania.

On the eve of the state GOP convention showdown between the two bitter rivals, Fairfield’s James Millington disputed a published report in which John Slater, the Republican Town Committee chairman of Bridgeport, vehemently denied accepting any freebies from the wrestling mogul McMahon.

Millington is the Fairfield RTC chairman and a police sergeant in Shelton.

Full disclosure: he is a Shays delegate.

In an exclusive interview with Hearst Connecticut Newspapers, Millington said that Slater gushed to him about getting “hooked up” at the April 1 wrestling extravaganza in South Florida while the two were discussing which candidates they were supporting during an April 18 meet-up event for congressional hopeful Chris Meek in Trumbull.

“We started to talk about the Senate race,” Millington said. “He had told me that he was going to be supporting Chris Shays as well, but he went on to say that he also liked Linda McMahon as well. He went on to tell me that he felt bad about supporting Chris because of the fact that he was a big wrestling fan and had friends at WWE who hooked him up at WrestleMania. The clear (implication) was that he was given VIP treatment at WrestleMania because of who he was.”

Slater, who furnished the newspaper with a copy of his bank statement and a ticket stub showing that he paid $355 for his ticket to WrestleMania, contradicted Millington’s account.

“The only conversation we had was about who we were endorsing. At that point, I was still undecided,” Slater said by phone tonight. “We did not speak about WrestleMania. That is not at all true. I’m sure he’s a Shays delegate.”

McMahon’s campaign characterized Millington’s comments as a baseless attack on the integrity of a delegate by a Shays surrogate.

“The Shays campaign is doubling down on a false accusation against a delegate – an accusation the Greenwich Time has already ran evidence proving it’s false,” Erin Isaac, a spokeswoman for McMahon, wrote in an e-mail. “No one should be surprised that the Shays campaign and it’s supporters would say anything on the eve of the convention to try to win back the delegates they’ve lost this week — ­ I guess desperate times call for desperate measures.”

Millington says he was shocked to receive an e-mail Thursday from the McMahon campaign linking to an audio recording of Slater, who said that Shays was spreading egregious allegations that were patently false.

“I was at an event with him and he basically told me the complete opposite,” Millington said. “”What I  want to do is set the record straight. He was very excited when he was telling me about it. He wasn’t trying to hide this.”

Millington effectively accused Slater of telling a half-truth.

“I’m sure that he paid for his ticket and stuff,” Millington said. “There’s no doubt in mind and he alluded to me that he got great benefits when he attended this thing.”

“You’ve got to watch out for these quid pro quos out there,” Millington said. “You have to watch out when you take any benefit from any campaign or individual and then turn around and endorse them.”

WrestleMania is the equivalent of the Super Bowl of professional wrestling. This year’s installment drew 78,363 fans to the home stadium of the NFL’s Miami Dolphins, where ticket prices ranged from $25 to a staggering $9,000 that was being asked by one seller of a ringside seat on the website StubHub.com.

The Shays campaign provided Hearst Connecticut Newspapers with photos it obtained from Slater’s Facebook profile showing him with an unidentified male friend at Sun Life Stadium in Miami Gardens, Fla., with the WrestleMania stage, mammoth fake palm trees and a steel cage in the background.

Slater was wearing a T-shirt with the words “Boots 2 Asses,” the rallying cry of “The Rock,” Dwayne Johnson, who defeated John Cena in his return to the ring at WrestleMania.

A pair of photos, also lifted by the Shays campaign off Facebook and apparently taken with a camera phone, show wrestling match sequences from the vantage of field-level seats in the massive football stadium.

“I didn’t get any perks from Linda,” Slater said tonight. “I have no contact with anybody who works for WWE at WrestleMania. “Linda McMahon never bribed me. I’m supporting her out of my own will because I believe in her as a leader.”

Neil Vigdor