SPRINGFIELD, Ill. – Scott Lee Cohen, Illinois Democratic Gov. Pat Quinn’s embattled runningmate, tried to defend his reputation on a Chicago public television news program last night and again said he would not step aside.
Accusations against Cohen include using anabolic steroids, threatening an ex-girlfriend with a knife and trying to sexually force himself on his ex-wife in 2005. The Chicago pawnbroker took the party’s No. 2 spot in Tuesday’s primary after spending almost $2 million of his own money to defeat five other candidates including several state lawmakers.
During an interview on Chicago WTTW’s Chicago Tonight program, Cohen said he has never lied about his past. The full 15-minute segment is available on the program’s Web site.
“I have been the most honest, open, forthright candidate that’s been out there. I had a legal right to seal the divorce file, I had a legal right to squash the (2005 domestic battery) arrest record…but I chose to keep it out there for people to see,” Cohen said, with his ex-wife Debra York Cohen by his side.
York Cohen didn’t dispute widely reported details of the couple’s divorce, saying that Cohen did verbally threaten her and tried to force her to have sex with him once.
“At the time that was an accurate statement,” York Cohen said. “That’s who he was then, that is not who he is now.”
She refused to discuss an ongoing court case about alimony or child support payments on the program.
Cohen said a 2005 arrest for domestic battery was retaliation by his girlfriend at the time has been misinterpreted. Police reports indicate the woman had marks on her neck and hands consistent with knife wounds.
“It was retaliation for me having her locked up a few weeks before (for destroying my apartment),” Cohen said. “She may have had marks, but if she did they were done by her and if we can find her and have her come forward, I’m sure she would tell you the same thing.”
Charges were dropped when the woman didn’t show at court appearances. Cohen said he did not know the woman had been arrested and pled guilty to prostitution charges shortly before the incident. He said the women was employed as a massage therapist when he met her.
Yesterday, Cohen issued a statement asking the woman to come forward and answer questions. A campaign spokeswoman said Cohen is trying to find her but has not been in contact.
Cohen said he will not step down, even after Quinn predicted the political newcomer would eventually remove himself for the good of the party yesterday. Quinn was finally declared the winner of the Democratic gubernatorial primary when Comptroller Dan Hynes conceded yesterday.
“Listen I worked hard for the people to get elected and I’m going to work very hard for the people when I’m lieutenant governor,” Cohen said. “I will not step down. I did nothing wrong.”
Illinois law requires candidates for governor and lieutenant governor to win their nominations separately in the party primaries, then run as a team in the general election. That system has caused problems before, forcing candidates for governor onto tickets with running mates they didn’t pick and sometimes don’t even know.
The Post-Dispatch’s Kevin McDermott and the Associated Press contributed