Sex, lies and steroids in Illinois

Lieutenant governor candidate Scott Lee Cohen has some female trouble

By Mary Elizabeth Williams

Senior Writer

Published February 5, 2010 6:59PM (EST)

Lieutenant governor candidate Scott Lee Cohen in Chicago, Thursday, Feb. 4, 2010.(AP Photo/Nam Y. Huh) (Nam Y. Huh)
Lieutenant governor candidate Scott Lee Cohen in Chicago, Thursday, Feb. 4, 2010.(AP Photo/Nam Y. Huh) (Nam Y. Huh)

If the long, long, long list of stories about Scott Lee Cohen are true, he's got the fondness for steroids of a Mark McGwire, the domestic abuse track record of a Charlie Sheen and the eye for hookers of an Eliot Spitzer. But wait! There's more! He's had tax troubles! His ex-wife accused him of adultery! Truly, the Democratic nominee for Illinois lieutenant governor appears the very definition of a Frankendouche.

The contender, who just won his nomination on Tuesday, should have been having a banner week. But then a series of stories in the Chicago Tribune shone a spotlight on his less than savory history.

Gov. Pat Quinn has called for his new running mate to step aside, saying in a statement that "These are disturbing allegations. Domestic abuse has no place in our society much less in public office."

But Cohen, who has spent about $2 million on his campaign, is no quitter. On his Web site he says, "I have no intention of stepping down or stepping aside." 

A pawnbroker and political novice who's never held office before, Cohen got a taste for public service after last year's Rod Blagojevich debacle inspired him to create a Rod Must Resign campaign. That's right, he got his start trying to oust another local fuckup.

His ex-wife Debra York-Cohen, who has publicly -- and bafflingly -- supported him in his campaign, has also in the past accused him of being a not too shabby 54 grand behind in his alimony and child support payments. But that's practically one of his more endearing acts. In 2005, she filed an order of protection against him -- though she recently stated, "At the time, he was going through a different phase. He was a different person than he is now." 

In her divorce papers, however, she claimed he was abusing steroids and "as a result he has an erratic, explosive temper." How erratic and explosive? She continued, "On May 9, 2005, 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. In fact, I had been having family members, including my mom and sister, stay with me for the past several weeks because I'm afraid to be home alone with him."

In response, Cohen stated in his petition for visitation rights to his four children that "Although I may have taken steroids and or performance enhancing drugs in the past I have not utilized any of these drugs in the last two weeks … Although from time to time I have screamed and yelled at my children, that is my parenting style and my prerogative. I have never abused my children, I have never hurt my children and I have never done any harm to them." Unless, of course, you consider screaming and yelling abusive.

But Cohen's drama wasn't over when the marriage was. Five months after the divorce papers were filed, he was arrested on domestic battery charges when his then-girlfriend accused him of pushing her against a wall and pulling a knife on her. According to the police report, she had mild scars on her neck and hands and a bump on the back of her head.

The girlfriend, by the way, was a prostitute he met while she was working in a massage parlor. He now claims he didn't know her curriculum vitae included happy endings, and though he decorously describes their relationship as "tumultuous," categorically insists he never abused her.

Appearing on "Chicago Tonight" Thursday to defend his candidacy, an agitated-looking Cohen defiantly stated, "I ran for the office, I won, I signed up for this. I will not step down. I did nothing wrong," adding self-deprecatingly, "I don't believe I'm an embarrassment to the ticket."

Cohen insists that he's been open about his past transgressions all along. Steroid abuse, domestic abuse arrest, financial woes, and prostitute dating aside, just don't call him a liar. But given how his version of those events differs from his divorce and arrest papers, given, in fact, his own apparent obliviousness to the severity of his actions (hint: screaming and yelling is not a parenting "style"), one has to wonder if the would-be lieutenant governor is not being entirely frank -- with himself. "I think you'll find I've been the most honest, open, forthright candidate that's been out there," he told "Chicago Tonight." Maybe nobody else in the viewing audience believed it. But at that moment, Scott Lee Cohen seemed utterly, chillingly confident in the sincerity of Scott Lee Cohen.

By Mary Elizabeth Williams

Mary Elizabeth Williams is a senior writer for Salon and author of "A Series of Catastrophes & Miracles."

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