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Lite Guv Lunacy

"Sometimes, I just don't know whether to laugh or cry" a faithful Beachwood reader writes. "How the hell did local media manage to break the news about Dorothy Brown's jeans drama before Tuesday while blowing off Scott Lee Cohen's legal troubles?"

Let's take a look.

*

"Scott Lee Cohen - a pawnbroker who shocked state Democratic leaders Tuesday night by winning the party's nomination for lieutenant governor - was arrested about four-and-a-half years ago and accused of holding a knife to a former live-in girlfriend's neck, newly obtained court records show," the Sun-Times reports.

Actually, as we shall learn, state Democratic leaders weren't exactly shocked; they started to believe Cohen had a good chance of winning at least a month ago. With the exception of Mark Brown, however, as we will get to, the media did not seem to notice.

"The misdemeanor charge against Cohen was dropped weeks later when the woman - who had just been found guilty of prostitution - failed to show up to testify, according to those records.

Which begs the question: How much weight should be given to a dropped charge?

"Cohen's Oct. 14, 2005, arrest came five months after his wife filed for divorce and convinced a judge to give her a temporary order of protection, records show."

Now we're getting into Blair Hull territory. This is of far more interest to me.

"A status hearing in the divorce case took place Wednesday, hours after Cohen's election-night triumph."

(Scene: "I want to thank everybody who worked so hard on this campaign. Now I've got to go home and get to sleep early because I've got a court date in the morning.")

"Cohen - who records show also had federal tax troubles that he says he has settled - denied in a written statement that he ever hurt the ex-girlfriend or his family."

But did he hurt the IRS?

"Cohen disclosed his domestic violence arrest when he announced his candidacy, but the details about the knife and prostitution case didn't surface in the campaign, as Cohen was considered a longshot."

Ding, ding, ding! We have a winner.

Details "did not surface" because Cohen "was considered a longshot." Love the passive construction. Let's rewrite it:

"The public was not made aware of Cohen's troubled background because the media decided he had not chance of winning and didn't bother to look into it further. Now Cohen is potentially a heartbeat away from the governorship. We're sorry."

*

"'He's been honest and up front from the beginning,' [campaign strategist Phil] Molfese said of Cohen's arrest. 'It's just that nobody cared.'

"State Sen. Terry Link (D-Vernon Hills), one of the unsuccessful candidates for lieutenant governor, and representatives of the other candidates met a month before the election with representatives of the Quinn and Hynes campaigns to warn them about Cohen, Link said.

"'We tried to warn the governor beforehand and they didn't want to listen to it,' Link said."

Look for that quote to show up in a string of ads titled "Quinn & The Pawnbroker."

Brownie Points
"Let the record reflect that on the very day last March that Scott Lee Cohen announced his campaign for lieutenant governor of Illinois, he voluntarily disclosed he had once been arrested in what he described as a domestic battery case involving a live-in girlfriend," Mark Brown writes today.

"The problem for Cohen was that he made his announcement to me, and I wasn't taking him very seriously.

"How was I to know way back then that the Democratic voters of Illinois would be so dumb as to elect him, brainwashed by millions of dollars in advertising about his job fairs?"

Um, how long have you been living in Illinois, Mark?

"That's why I told Cohen at the time that nobody even knew who he was, let alone cared enough to want to read about his dirty laundry, and I didn't see the need to go into it.

"I was only writing about him because of Cohen's line of work: pawnbroker. I'd never heard of a pawnbroker trying to break into politics, let alone aspiring to being a heartbeat from the governor's office."

Tell me about your legal profession but not your domestic battery case!

Let me ask y'all something: Would you rather have a pawnbroker or an (alleged) domestic batterer a heartbeat away from the governorship? At least the pawnbroker has experience with debt.

"But Cohen insisted he thought it was important to make the incident public right from the start, because he didn't want it to come up later and look like he was hiding something, a la Blair Hull or Jack Ryan."

He begged the media to report this!

"So I duly reported the information, along with his explanation that the charges were dropped when the girlfriend failed to appear in court and with his denial that he'd done anything wrong in the first place. The whole business was tucked into a couple of paragraphs deep within the story, which I thought portrayed Cohen overall as a bit of a goof."

I just typed up what he told me. I didn't bother to look at a police report or check court records.

"And that's where it stopped, until a few weeks ago, when I started receiving calls from Democratic political types as his opponents came to realize Cohen might actually win, which I'd already figured out for myself just by hearing all his radio commercials and seeing his campaign mailings.

"Some hoped I would remind voters about Cohen's arrest, but I thought that if his opponents or the candidates for governor believed it was important, they should make it an issue themselves."

Cohen himself had made it an issue!

"Instead, I wrote a column about the very real possibility Cohen could win and pointing out how he was going out of his way to hide his occupation in those campaign ads touting him generically as a successful small-business man."

(I wrote about this yesterday in the item called Lite Guv.)

"I hoped that would be enough to bring voters to their senses, which was my second mistake."

Right. A Mark Brown column would bring voters to their senses.

"On the plus side, Cohen has proved himself a strategic thinker - fronting the arrest record showed as much. His entire campaign was extremely shrewd. The jobs fair idea was brilliant."

Brilliant is one word for it; I'd like to see a true vetting of how those fairs were conducted, which companies participated (is that an in-kind campaign contribution?) and how many attendees actually got jobs. And did his job fairs compete against other job fairs held by people whose job is to hold job fairs?

"The problem is that Cohen has no business being lieutenant governor, not to mention governor, which will only become more obvious in the days ahead."

True enough, but now that I'm done writing this segment I almost want to root for the guy. If we truly want outsiders in government, maybe this is the sort of guy who can, you know, get things done.

Then Again . . .
"Cohen is insisting it's all lies, and that he didn't know his live-in girlfriend was a hooker," John Kass writes today. "She told him she worked as a 'massage therapist,' the Pawnbroker's spokesman said.

"That explains everything."

Field Day
"Now Republicans will scour the state for the 'massage therapist' who just may - based on Illinois' recent history of governors not finishing their terms - end up as Illinois' first lady," Kass notes.

On The Record
Here's Cohen's Tribune questionnaire. This is Illinois, you'd think these things would ask candidates to describe their criminal history by now.

Lighter Lite Guv
I don't know if this is how it would work, but if Cohen is somehow forced out of the campaign, state Rep. Art Turner of Chicago finished second.

Rep Rap
If Democratic leaders were so afraid of Cohen's candidacy down the stretch, you'd think they could have gotten at least one of four state legislators to drop out and put one of the others over the top. Terry Link, for example, finished in last place with 99,972 votes. Cohen beat Turner by 30,470 votes.

Both Sides Now
Not that Republicans have anything to brag about. Their lieutenant governor candidate, Jason Plummer (as I pointed out yesterday), is a former Peter Fitzgerald intern (that in itself is not necessarily bad) who is just 27 (that is.)

What do Cohen and Plummer have in common? They're both rich and they both self-financed their campaigns.

Reform Agenda
1. Newspapers should experiment with this next time around: Devote equal attention to every candidate on the ballot. Do not give advantage or disadvantage to any candidate. Let each candidate's views have equal value. Resources? Reallocate them during campaign season. Use able bloggers. Figure it out. Records? By all means, some candidates will have longer records to apprise than others. As it is now. Breaking news? By all means. This is a starting point - one that truly opens up the debate for all issues and voices. A campaign takes shape from there. Andy Martin? There are always exceptions. Ghost candidates? Expose them - and more importantly, their backers.

2. As I've previously written, I've long supported eliminating the office of lieutenant governor. But I think I've been persuaded by this Mike Lawrence piece, which argues that the presence of a lieutenant governor in the line of succession assures (generally) the continuity of the agenda of the person voters elected should the governorship be vacated. Or, in any case, that the successor is the elected governor's choice. If the line of succession fell instead to, say, the attorney general or secretary of state, a change in party could occur.

3. To achieve No. 2, gubernatorial candidates would have to choose running mates instead of having lieutenant governor candidates run independently in primaries, as they do now, before joining the ticket.

4. Public financing of campaigns.

-

Comments welcome.



Permalink

Posted on February 4, 2010


MUSIC - Did Chicago Drill Change The Game?
TV - Jonathan Pie's Campaign Trail.
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BOOKS - Macmillan Screwing Libraries.

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