CHICAGO – The Democratic nominee for Illinois' lieutenant governor dropped out of the race Sunday night, less than a week after winning the nomination, amid a political uproar about his past.
"This is the hardest thing that I ever had to do in my life," he said before choking up with sobs.
Since Cohen won the Democratic nomination on Tuesday, it has become widely known that he was accused of abusing his ex-wife and holding a knife to the throat of an ex-girlfriend — a woman who was herself charged with prostitution. He also admits using steroids in the past.
"For the good of the people of the state of Illinois and the Democratic Party, I will resign," Cohen said in a rambling remarks made as the Super Bowl halftime entertainment blared in the background.
The revelations about Cohen's past came as Illinois was starting to move on from the scandals of ousted Gov. Rod Blagojevich.
Democratic Gov. Pat Quinn, who inherited the job after Blagojevich's ouster following federal corruption charges, would have been paired with Cohen on the November ticket. Quinn, U.S. Rep. Danny Davis and Sen. Dick Durbin all had urged Cohen to leave the race.
Quinn said Cohen had "made the right decision for the Democratic Party and the people of Illinois.
"Now we can continue to focus our efforts on putting our economy back on track and working to bring good jobs to Illinois," the governor said in a written statement.
Surrounded by his sons, his fiancee and her son, Cohen apologized to his family, his supporters and anyone he may have let down.
"All I ever wanted to do was to run for office and to help the people, not to cause chaos, that was never my intention," Cohen said.
Until his nomination, Cohen was a political unknown. Democratic leaders had not considered him a threat to win and didn't highlight his past during the campaign.
Cohen's resignation from the ticket means state party leaders can replace him on the ballot.
"Now we can move on to find a strong replacement," said Steve Brown, spokesman for the Illinois Democratic chairman, House Speaker Michael Madigan.
Cohen, a pawnbroker and owner of a cleaning products distribution company, ran against several veteran politicians, spending $2 million — mostly his own money — on his campaign, more than twice as much as all his opponents combined. He gained strong name recognition with a flurry of advertising featuring people who said they got jobs at employment fairs he held.
The location and timing for Sunday's announcement — a heated beer garden at a Chicago bar during the Super Bowl — perplexed some patrons who were trying to watch the New Orleans Saints take on the Indianapolis Colts.
"It's a way to grab some headlines I guess," said 53-year-old Rick Kokonas wearing a New Orleans T-shirt.
Cohen was arrested in 2005 on domestic battery charges for allegedly pushing his then-girlfriend, Amanda Eneman, against a wall and holding a knife to her throat. The charges were dropped when she failed to show up for a court date. He has denied the allegations and called that relationship tumultuous.
Eneman had issued a statement Saturday through her attorney saying that, based on her observations and Cohen's behavior during their relationship, she "does not believe that he is fit to hold any public office including that of lieutenant governor."
Cohen said Eneman's statement did not affect his decision.
Associated Press Writer Deanna Bellandi contributed to this report.