Lt. gov candidate Cohen won't step aside

February 4, 2010 8:36:42 PM PST
Scott Lee Cohen, the winner of the Democratic primary for Illinois lieutenant governor, says he will not step down despite a past checkered with a number of unsavory issues.His estranged wife accused him of steroid use and angry outbursts and sought an order of protection. His girlfriend who later pleaded guilty to prostitution claimed he held a knife to her throat. But Cohen says those mistakes are all in the past.

Cohen appears to have spent more than $1 million of his own money to win the primary and says he's staying in the race.

Before the election, it is fair to say that most voters knew relatively little about political newcomer Scott Lee Cohen. But two days after electing him by a 30,000 vote margin some might say they know too much.

Cohen walked into a television station Thursday night for the last of his numerous interviews for the day. He says he tried to be open about his past before the election but no one paid attention. They are now.

There is a mountain of legal paperwork available documenting some damaging allegations, including from his ex-wife's divorce petition. Among them: "For the past two years life has been pretty unbearable. I live in constant fear." And another entry: "After having confessed to several affairs he had, he tried to have sex with me, and despite my refusals, he tried to force himself on me, until I pushed him away and emphatically told him no."

"You don't stay with somebody for 26 years when they're hittin' and beatin' you. You don't," said Cohen.

Cohen and his ex-wife, Debbie York-Cohen, were together 26 years. York-Cohen is standing behind her ex as he deals with the flood of negative publicity. That includes these other notes from the divorce: "My husband has been taking injectable anabolic steroids and, as a result, he has an erratic, explosive he leaves harassing messages on my mirror in lipstick so everyone can see those notes."

York-Cohen says that's misleading.

"I wouldn't have been with him for as long as I was or had four children with him, if he weren't a good person," said York-Cohen.

Nevertheless, Cohen is now facing calls for him to resign from other politicians. There's even a Facebook petition.

"If you don't fully answer questions satisfactorily, then your only way to go is to step aside. And I think that'll be the way it'll go," said Gov. Quinn.

"Either he steps down or the governor has to step aside and run as an independent," said John Schmidt, (D) former candidate for governor.

There are more allegations involving his ex-girlfriend who, according to a Chicago police report, accused Cohen of placing a knife to her neck. Officers said there were minor scars on her hand from trying to defend herself against Cohen swinging the knife at her. The charges were eventually dropped. Cohen says it never happened like that. Two weeks later, the ex-girlfriend pleaded guilty to prostitution charges and Cohen defends her.

"To this day I still don't believe she was a prostitute. There are all kinds of allegations that fly and not all of them are true," said Cohen.

Cohen insists all of this information was available before the election. He has nothing to hide and he's here to stay.

"I will not resign. I will not step down. I have done nothing wrong," said Cohen.

Cohen admits to using steroids for a brief time and says he regrets it. He denies that it led to an erratic temper.

The Illinois constitution was amended in 1970 to read that the governor and lieutenant governor candidates from the same party must run on the same ballot in the general election. Before the Illinois Constitution was changed, voters in the general election voted for each office separately. In fact, in 1968 they elected Republican Richard Ogilvie as governor and Democrat and future U.S. Senator Paul Simon as lieutenant governor.

There is no provision for removing a candidate chosen by voters in the primary.

If Cohen resigns as nominee for lieutenant governor, the Democratic state central committee picks a replacement. Those committee members were just elected Tuesday. House Speaker Michael Madigan heads the central committee.