After weeks of rumors since lobbyist Andi Perez spoke out about being groped by a Democrat state legislator, she named Rep. Mike Zabel (D-Drexel Hill) as the politician who groped her.
Perez spoke out because House rules did not allow her to complain about Zabel to the ethics committee. Only House members are allowed to, but she hoped that the rules would be changed. However, after a party-line vote Wednesday, the Democrat-controlled House did not amend the rules to include allegations from outsiders like Perez.
“I am very optimistic that the Speaker and Leadership of the Pennsylvania House are committed to a Rules Package that includes the expansion of protections against sexual harassment. I shared my story with the intent of creating real change in Harrisburg #respectvictims,” Perez said on Twitter, before the vote.
In January, Perez described what had happened to her to then-Speaker Mark Rozzi (D-Berks), who was himself a victim of childhood sexual assault. She did not name Zabel at that time.
The lawmaker “decided to caress my leg while I was wearing a skirt, all the while telling me he was impressed by my passion and knowledge of the issues we were discussing,” Perez said. “I moved away from him hoping he would stop — he did not.”
“I could sit here for hours telling you the range of emotions I felt after this,” she continued. “Of course, I was full of rage at the disrespect and arrogance it requires to so brazenly sexually harass me in a public place where I am just trying to do my job for the workers in my union.”
Now she has called on Zabel to resign.
The Delaware Valley Journal reached out to Zabel for his side of the story, but he declined to respond.
While Zabel’s identity was first reported in the press by Broad + Liberty it was an open secret among legislators, including members of the House Democratic caucus. Once his identity was made public, more women began speaking out.
A state representative told Broad + Liberty about another incident at an event last fall where Zabel allegedly followed her to her car after complimenting her appearance and putting his arm around her. After she rebuffed him, Zabel tried to get another member to let him come to her hotel room, that House member said.
DelVal pundit Christine Flowers responded to the scandal by saying, “Rep. Mike Zabel deserves the chance to defend himself against accusations that are, as of this moment, unproven. However, while due process is crucial in these situations, and while the #MeToo movement caused havoc in the lives of many innocent people, I can’t ignore the hypocrisy of the Democrats, who knew about alleged transgressions which were by all accounts an open secret in Harrisburg, and are refusing to do anything to investigate. You can’t escape the thought that they were trying to hold onto a razor-thin majority by whatever means necessary, which led them to ignore Zabel’s-and their own-predicament.”
Speaker Joanna McClinton (D-Philadelphia/Delaware) has spoken out about survivors.
In an emailed statement Democratic leaders said, “As the leaders of the House Democratic Caucus, we are concerned by the allegations we learned today, and take such accusations seriously. We are committed to creating and maintaining a work environment free from discrimination and harassment. Today House Democrats stood alone in lifting the veil of secrecy that in the past would have denied survivors their voice. Until today, deficiencies in the House Rules denied anyone other than legislative staff and House members an opportunity to report incidents of harassment or discrimination.
The newly empowered House Ethics Committee will be established on Thursday. The rules passed today include a five-year lookback for accusations to ensure all those who under the previous leadership had no recourse have a pathway to having their voices heard. Everyone deserves to be safe at work and our caucus commends and respects the courage of those who come forward.”
Rep. Kristin Marcell (R-Richboro) called out the Democratic leadership for not including sexual harassment protections for women who come into the House to do business or as guests in the rules they proffered.
“Nobody in this chamber can deny we continue to have a sexual harassment problem in this building, and we need to do something to change the culture in Harrisburg,” Marcell said. “I was hopeful the majority was going to be genuine in trying to deal with the many situations we have heard formally and informally over the course of the last several weeks.”
The rules presented “are an unfortunate muddying of the waters,” said Marcell. “Madame Speaker, we have had the opportunity to deal with the real problem affecting who goes on in this building. And there was a lot of rhetoric spilled about standing up for victims of sexual harassment…”
They were told in special session, “Now is not the time,” she said. But they are still waiting “for a solid solution for this real problem of sexual harassment.”
The rules passed on party lines Wednesday 102 to 100. Republican Linda Schlegel-Culver resigned from the House Tuesday to take her seat in the Senate so the Democrats control the House with a two-vote majority.
On his website, Zabel says that he graduated from Temple Law and was an assistant district attorney in Philadelphia. He also holds an undergraduate degree from the College of the Holy Cross in Worcester, Mass., and his master’s degree in classics is from Indiana University Bloomington.
Before law school, Zabel taught Greek and Latin in the middle school of Agnes Irwin, a private girls’ school on the Main Line, from 2003 to 2007, a spokesman for the school confirmed.
He is married with two children.