Linda McMahon, who’s considering another high-octane run for office, reappeared in the heart of New Haven’s Latino community to meet some kids—and to give back some money that the feds took away.
McMahon, cofounder of the World Wrestling Entertainment empire, made an appearance on drizzly Wednesday afternoon at Centro San Jose, a community center run by Catholic Charities at 290 Grand Ave.
It was a familiar stomping ground for the Greenwich Republican: The center lies along the same stretch of Fair Haven where McMahon found some fans last fall, though not enough to topple her opponent in the U.S. Senate race, Democrat Dick Blumenthal.
Back on Grand Avenue without a campaign team, McMahon was asked Wednesday if she plans to run for office again. She’s been publicly toying with a quest for next year’s nomination for Connecticut’s other U.S. Senate, from which Joe Lieberman is retiring.
“I’ve not made a definite decision, but I’m certainly considering it,” McMahon reiterated Wednesday.
When McMahon returned to Grand Avenue, she showed up alone, without any handlers or trackers. She came as a low-key philanthropist and as a children’s storyteller promoting the Week of the Young Child.
McMahon donated $68,000 to Centro San Jose to support a youth program that’s set to suffer from federal cutbacks. The money came from the Linda and Vince McMahon Family Foundation, which was created in 2007. The foundation gave out $1.5 million in grants in 2009, according to the latest tax filing.
The grant will support the center’s after-school program and summer camp, which together serve about 100 teenagers per year, according to staff. Centro San Jose is one of many social service agencies bracing for cuts in federal Community Development Block Grants this year. Aldermen are still waiting on word from the feds before deciding how to divvy up the money. As of now, Centro San Jose expects to lose at least $7,000 from that funding source.
Looming federal cuts would have forced the center to cut back the hours for the teen program, according to Tiffany Murasso, the director of early childhood programs for Catholic Charities. She said McMahon’s foundation came through at just the right time.
“This grant really saved the program,” Murasso said.
In an interview, McMahon said Centro San Jose fits her foundation’s goal of helping “children at risk.” And, she added, the timing was right.
“I do know that it’s very difficult, in these particular times, to get funding,” McMahon said.
McMahon said her foundation usually keeps the donations anonymous. She put out no press release for the event. She confirmed the donation only when asked by a reporter.
“Is That John Cena?”
In a show of appreciation, teens from the center regaled her with foam hearts.
Jazmine Ribot handed her 8-month-old baby to McMahon for a photo op. She’s pictured at right with Yazmin Jones, decorating the hearts.
Yazmin, who’s 16, said she’s attending Centro San Jose for the third year in a row. Every day after school, she walks half an hour from her Clinton Avenue home to get there.
“I love it here,” she said. “You meet a lot of people.”
Yazmin is one of 15 teens who show up to the center every weekday. When she arrives, she knows the routine: “Homework first,” then a snack and an activity. Some days, she learns about mediation or safe sex. On other days, she takes a field trip to a park.
Yazmin said her fellow teens were upset to learn of the looming cuts.
“We was crying, like, ‘No! Don’t shut it down!’” She said the teens offered to run a bake sale or a car wash to keep the program going.
“Thankfully we got the grant, so we don’t have to do all that stuff,” she said.
After thanking McMahon, staff led her to the rear of the building for the next event: A meet-and-greet with 19 squirming pre-schoolers. The kids, ages 3 to 5, are part of a school readiness program funded by the state and local school district.
The purpose of McMahon’s appearance was to promote the importance of reading, in honor of the Week of the Young Child.
“Is this the reading chair?” McMahon asked her pupils, sitting down on a corner of a storytelling mat.
As she sat down, she spotted a fan in the crowd: In anticipation of her visit, one little boy had put on a black “WWF RAW” T-shirt sporting several wrestling characters.
“Is that John Cena?” McMahon asked.
“Si,” nodded the boy. “Lucha libre!”
Introductions complete, McMahon opened up a copy of “Whoever You Are” by Mem Fox and started reading aloud.
She paused to grin at curious comments—“We don’t have monkeys in our heads!”—and to ask the students questions, such as, “Does anybody here speak French?”
Click on the play arrow at the top of the story to watch their exchange.
McMahon later said she gained her teaching certification at East Carolina University, where she majored in French. She said she did some student teaching in college, but after graduation, she gave up teaching and pursued another life path. She said she gained the most experience on the reading mat with her two children and her six grandkids, who now range from 6 months to 7 years old.
Castro Pops Questions
After story time ended, students tugged at McMahon’s arm and led her on a tour of their classroom, which was decked out with spaceships and astronauts. When one boy asked her to tie his shoe, she bent down and obliged.
On her way out of the classroom, McMahon got another request. This one came from Fair Haven Alderwoman Migdalia Castro, a former Centro San Jose outreach worker who now represents Fair Haven.
“I’m very thankful for your support for Centro San Jose,” Castro began. “It means a lot to the community.”
Castro bode her time, then later popped a question.
“I don’t know if you’re planning to run for office,” Castro said, but if so, “would you support the Community Development Block Grants” that mean so much to Centro San Jose? Democrats have fought to restore the money, which was cut by President Obama.
McMahon didn’t quite answer the question. She said one way to supplement federal cutbacks is through local and private donations—donations like hers. She said while her foundation historically hasn’t publicized its donations, “hopefully this will encourage others to contribute.”
Castro asked her a second time if she’d support CDBG.
“I want to be as supportive as possible,” McMahon replied, but she declined to commit to support government funding for a specific program.
Castro, a Democrat, was asked if she would support Republican McMahon in a campaign. Castro said she couldn’t answer that question without first gauging the will of her community. She suggested the visit may be looked on favorably.
“Fair Haven is very open to guests that come in here,” she said, but when it comes to elections, “people really look at what you have done for the neighborhood. For Linda to come here and make that investment—it’s a plus for her.”
Castro said she supported Blumenthal last election because he had a solid record of helping her constituents.
Until Wednesday, Castro had seen McMahon only as a candidate from a different party running against her longtime ally.
“This is an opportunity to get to meet someone in a different light,” she said.