PI Original Josh Kalven Friday February 5th, 2010, 12:08am

The Scott Lee Cohen Trainwreck (VIDEO)

More and more details keep emerging about embattled Democratic lieutenant governor candidate Scott Lee Cohen.  And none of it's pretty.

In the hours after he suprised political observers and won the Democratic primary for lieutenant governor, the local media began unearthing more and more details about Scott Lee Cohen's sordid past.  But in a Thursday media blitz that included interviews with almost every news outlet in Chicago, Cohen dug his heels in, saying that he hadn't yet been contacted by any party representatives and that he had no intention of backing out of the race. 

For those just tuning into this trainwreck of a story, here are the various details:

- The 2.3 million: Cohen, a Chicago pawnbroker, won the Democratic nomination for lieutenant governor on Tuesday night after pouring $2.3 million of his own money into his campaign and blanketing the state with mailers and TV ads.  Some local politicians, including Alds. Dick Mell (33rd Ward) and Robert Maldonado (26th Ward) even supported his candidacy on their websites.

- The media blackout: As he was launching his campaign in March of last year, he gave an interview to Sun-Times columnist Mark Brown in which pre-emptively disclosed that he had been arrested in 2005 on domestic battery charges involving an ex-girlfriend.  In the nine months that followed, no other outlets followed-up on the story, assuming -- like Brown -- that Cohen had no chance of winning.

- The knife: Only on Wednesday, following Cohen's victory, did reporters begin uncovering the full background.  The Sun-Times reported that the allegations in the 2005 battery case involved him holding a knife to the neck of the then-24-year-old ex-girlfriend.

- The prostitute: We also learned that the ex-girlfriend in question had been arrested on prostitution charges while working at a Glenview massage parlor.

- The tax problems: The Sun-Times further disclosed that public records showed Cohen had a history of "federal tax troubles."

- The warning: State Sen. Terry Link, one of Cohen's competitors in the Democratic primary, told reporters that he had warned both Pat Quinn and Dan Hynes' gubernatorial campaigns about Cohen.  Link said he wanted them to issue "a joint statement denouncing this guy."

- The guv's response: At a Thursday press conference, Gov. Quinn denied having known anything about Cohen's past.  He said that Cohen should be given an opportunity to discuss the issue in the public arena, but also strongly urged his would-be running mate to consider stepping aside.

- The divorce papers: Later that afternoon, the details of Cohen's divorce from wife Debbie Cohen York surfaced.  In them, York commented that life with Cohen was "unbearable" and that she lived in "constant fear" of him.  She stated: "On May 9, 2005, after having confessed to several affairs ... 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."  She also told the court that Cohen had continually harassed her after she filed for divorce, even writing threatening messages in lipstick on her bathroom mirror.

- The steroids: The divorce papers further revealed that Cohen had been taking anabolic steroids at the time of the incidents described by his ex-wife.

- The alimony: CBS 2's Mike Flannery also reported that York is trying to "get back child support that [Cohen] didn’t pay while he was spending $3 million on his run for lt. governor.”

- The refusal: In a Thursday statement, Cohen said: "I have no intention of stepping down or stepping aside. When the facts come to light, after my ex-wife and ex-girlfriend speak, the people of Illinois can decide, and I will listen to them directly."

Got all that?

Cohen's Thursday media tour culminated with a surreal 15-minute interview on WTTW's Chicago Tonight, alongside York. During the appearance, he denied the reported details of the 2005 attack on his ex-girlfriend (whom he apparently has been unable to locate).  He said he "never knew her as a prostitute."  Meanwhile, York didn't deny Cohen's behavior as laid out in the divorce papers, but did attribute it to his steroid use.  "That's who he was then," she said.  "It's not who he is now." Below is an abridged version of that segment (full version available here):

In short ... this is a nightmare for the Democrats.  Once again, the national media is casting a wary eye at the Illinois political scene.  The editorial pages are beginning to chime in. The Republicans, of course, are already having a field day with it.  And if the interview above is any indication, Cohen is not currently prepared to take a $2.3 million hit and bow out of the race.

Stay tuned ...


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