inside sources print logo
Get up to date Delaware Valley news in your inbox

DelVal’s Zabel Outed as Accused State House Groper

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.

Please follow DVJournal on social media: Twitter@DVJournal or

Identity of State Rep. Accused of Groping Lobbyist Known Widely in Harrisburg Political Circles

This story first appeared in Broad + Liberty

The identity of a state representative accused of groping a lobbyist for the Service Employees International Union is one of the worst-kept secrets in Harrisburg political circles, yet that member appears to be facing no discipline for the misconduct while Democratic leadership seems content to allow the issue to evaporate without consequence.

If the scandal were to slip into obscurity, it could signify many of the new norms and reforms brought about in the wake of the #MeToo movement have lost vigor — or, that such standards are only likely to be enforced when the political circumstances allow.

Andi Perez, a lobbyist for the SEIU, told House Speaker Mark Rozzi (D) at a listening session in late January that a sitting member of the Pennsylvania House of Representatives touched her inappropriately.

“This lawmaker decided to caress my leg — I was wearing a skirt — all the while telling me he was impressed by my passion and knowledge of the issues we were discussing. … I moved away from him, hoping he would stop,“ Perez said. “He did not.”

In her January testimony to Rozzi’s listening tour, Perez did not explain why she was not naming the individual. She and a press representative for the SEIU did not respond to a request for comment for this story.

Broad + Liberty has received at least a dozen tips, many unsolicited, from bipartisan sources, of the identity of the representative. All of the tips identified the same person, who is a Democrat.

Because Broad + Liberty does not have a report from Perez as to the person’s identity, and because no person would put their name behind an accusation of who the alleged groper is, Broad + Liberty is currently declining to name the individual.

However, the number and quality of sources willing to identify the same individual — albeit off the record — easily demonstrates the identity of the alleged groper is well known in the State Capitol.

Yet if that is true, why, after the reckoning brought forward by the #MeToo movement, is an allegation of sexual misconduct allowed to languish? While it might be true that current ethics rules restrict who can file an official complaint, it’s also true that elected officials have been willing to use unofficial channels, like public pressure, any time they see fit to do so.

One former lawmaker believes politics has trumped ethics yet again.

“Having witnessed a few of these kinds of scandals in my time in Harrisburg, I can tell you that if this accused person were a Republican, there would be a full-court press from elected Democrats and from the media to name and oust this person,” said former state representative Becky Corbin, a Republican in Chester County. “But in this particular instance, the only explanation that makes sense for all of the silence is that Democrats can’t afford for this person to be expelled because of their narrow majority,” in the House.

Republicans entered the 2023 legislative year with a two-seat majority, 101-99, in the House of Representatives, but only because of three vacancies in Democratic districts left Democrats short. Once special elections were completed, Democrats correctly believed they could expect the speaker’s gavel.

It was in the uncertainty of that January moment — Democrats eager to begin exercising the power of a forthcoming majority and Republicans eager to forestall the more progressive wing of the Democratic caucus — that both parties cut the deal electing Mark Rozzi as Speaker of the House.

Rozzi’s ascent to the speakership was so unexpected it made national news, as some pundits were cautiously optimistic that the move might signal a new experiment in bipartisan cooperation at a time when partisan distrust feels insurmountable. A Democrat from Berks County, Rozzi pledged to change his affiliation to independent, and promised not to caucus with either party — the first part of that promise Republicans say he reneged on.

court ruling helped cement Feb. 7 as the date for the three special elections that would complete the House membership, and as expected, Democrats won all three, giving them a 102-101 edge.

The expulsion or forced resignation of a Democratic member of the House would likely only extend Rozzi’s time as Speaker, while some Democrats are eager to elect Majority Leader Joanna McClinton (D -Philadelphia/Delaware County), a representative with a decidedly more progressive agenda and constituency.

To reorganize the leadership, Democrats would need perfect unity on the vote to do so, meaning even Rozzi would have to vote to remove himself as Speaker, a move that would not only stunt his new ambitions but would also clearly be a betrayal to the Republicans who helped elect him.

A special election in this particular case would not be without other risks for Democrats. The district of the accused member leans Democratic, but is far from out of reach for Republicans.

Requests for comment to the top four leaders in the Democratic House Caucus — Speaker Rozzi, McClinton, Dem. Whip Jordan Harris, and Dem. Caucus Chairman Dan Miller — were not returned. A request for comment to the office of the accused individual also was not returned.

Whether lawmakers can or should move against a sitting member in the absence of an official ethics inquiry is a layered difficulty, involving not only the obvious ethical considerations, but also issues of due process and political style.

In September 2021, Democratic leadership stripped Rep. Kevin Boyle (D – Philadelphia) of his chairmanship of the House Finance Committee and also of his Capitol access badge for reasons never made clear.

“The move to sideline an elected official of their own party is one that legislative leaders have used sparingly,” Spotlight PA reported. “When it has happened in the past, it’s almost always been used either punitively — to punish a lawmaker who has angered leadership — or because of a personnel issue involving the lawmaker.”

Leadership later restored those privileges to Boyle, but only Broad + Liberty inquired about those developments. The outlets that originally reported on the discipline did not report on how Boyle returned to his party’s good graces, and Democrat leadership remained tight-lipped. At the time, Democrats were not positioned for a majority, and Boyle’s district is also a safe one.

In 2017, Gov. Tom Wolf called for his fellow Democrat Sen. Daylin Leach to step down after a report from the Inquirer alleged improprieties against the senator. Wolf took that step even though an ethics inquiry wouldn’t be launched until 2019.

State Senator Katie Muth (D – Montgomery/Chester) was a driving force behind Leach’s ultimate departure from the senate.

On the day Perez broke her allegation, Muth authored a 20-tweet thread supporting Perez, but also detailing many other past sexual assault scandals in the Capitol, labeling it the “dome of corruption.”

As with the House Democratic leadership, Muth did not respond to questions as to whether she knew the identity of the accused, whether House Democratic leadership had pursued the issue aggressively enough, and if the politics of a one-seat majority might be in the decision-making mix.

Rozzi, meanwhile, called the House back into a special session on Tuesday that will only focus on two bills dealing with the statute of limitations on certain child sex crimes.

The House had been in recess because Republicans and Democrats could not agree to rules for the new session, a political debate that was made all the more difficult by the narrow and shifting majorities.

As Perez noted in her spoken complaint, House ethics rules greatly restrict who can bring an ethics charge against a sitting member. Changing those rules to allow greater flexibility is expected to be debated sometime this year.

However, as the special session got underway Tuesday, Republicans complained that they weren’t given enough of an opportunity to amend the rules of the special session, amendments that might have included the exact kind of ethical changes Perez advocated for in her speech to Rozzi from January.

Perez previously singled out Rep. Kate Klunk (R – York) for her proposals for many of the kinds of ethics changes Perez spoke of.

On Tuesday, Klunk expressed her frustration at not having enough of an opportunity to offer amendments to the rules for the special session.

“So I hope that at some point we will be able to offer amendments to our special session rules, in addition to House rules when we get back into regular session, that include language on sexual harassment, because there are victims out there and we need to protect folks who come and interact with us,” on a daily basis, Klunk said Tuesday.