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Delco Rep. Zabel Resigns As Sex Harassment Charges Mount

Wednesday was International Women’s Day, and it was also the day Rep. Mike Zabel finally resigned from the House in the face of multiple allegations of sexually harassing his female colleagues.

Zabel (D-Drexel Hill) sent in a brief resignation letter just hours after yet another woman, Rep. Abigail Major, came forward to share how he made a drunken pass at her, then followed her to her car late last year.

Major is just one of several women who have come forward to recount how Zabel behaved inappropriately around them, allegations the Democrat has yet to deny. The floodgates opened after SEIU lobbyist Andi Perez came forward, telling how he put his hand on her leg during a business conversation. Zabel’s former campaign manager, Colleen Kennedy, also made accusations.

Zabel’s resignation takes effect March 16.

“Serving my neighbors as the representative for the 163rd District has been the honor of my life,” Zabel wrote. “At this time, I will be stepping back from this role to focus on my family and my health.”

House Democrats hold a tenuous two-person majority at the moment. Democratic Speaker of the House Joanna McClinton has set a primary to fill the seat left vacant when Northumberland Republican Lynda Schlegel Culver was elected to the state senate.

Now there will need to be an election to replace Zabel in his Democrat-leaning district. His resignation could give Republicans a shot at picking up the seat, political insiders say.

“This resignation means two things: House leaders in both parties will have to find a way to work together to pass legislation,” said political commentator Guy Ciarrocchi. “And the voters in and around Upper Darby are about to see, hear and feel more than $1 million (in ads) as the party that wins this seat will take control of the House.”

At a press conference Wednesday morning before Zabel’s resignation, Major said, “I cannot sleep at night knowing he is just going to get away with this behavior.”

Major was at a bar after a work event last November when Zabel allegedly made a drunken pass at her.

At a “local establishment here in Harrisburg, I was approached by state Rep. Mike Zabel,” said Major. “He was clearly intoxicated. His lips and teeth were stained red from wine…We barely knew each other outside of a few work-related conversations.”

She had lost more than 50 pounds that year, and Zabel complimented her on her appearance.

“I was attempting to pay my tab when he began telling me how fantastic I looked,” Major said. “He could really tell that I’d lost a lot of weight and that I just looked great. I told him, ‘Thank you.’”

Zabel tried to follow her to her car, but she evaded him and got another male colleague to walk her out. She heard that he then propositioned another female representative at the bar afterward.

Major said, “Alcoholism is terrible, and I hope he gets help, but it is not an excuse or a pass to assault or harass women, and I’m tired of men using it as such. Plenty of men manage to keep their hands to themselves even after having too many drinks.”

Major’s goal at the press conference was to expand the ethics rules to include misbehavior in places other than the Capitol grounds and legislative events. And Major and other Republicans called for an ethics committee to be formed immediately rather than when the House reconvenes in April.

Reacting to Zabel’s resignation, Jason Gottesman, a spokesperson for the GOP House Leader Bryan Cutler, said, “First, we recognize and thank every woman who came forward to share their story about how they were impacted by Rep. Zabel’s conduct. Second, it is never too late to do the right thing, and Rep. Zabel has finally done that in announcing his resignation.

“House Republican leadership has consistently called on our members to adhere to a higher standard worthy of the public trust that has been instilled in them. We held our own members accountable for their own actions and expected nothing less from Rep. Zabel and House Democratic leadership. It was the work and leadership of our caucus in 2019 that put sexual harassment ethics rules into the House operating rules for the first time.

“While we wish Rep. Zabel well in his ongoing recovery, whatever illness he may be facing does not excuse his conduct. We hope we can all move forward from these troubling and repeated instances and work toward a safe and accessible Capitol for everyone and a better Pennsylvania.”

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Women House Members Have Message for Zabel: Resign.

Sixteen female state representatives presented a letter to House leadership Monday asking accused groper Rep. Mike Zabel to resign.

The lawmakers—all Republicans—led by Rep. Kristin Marcell (R-Richboro) hand-delivered the letter to Speaker Joanna McClinton (D-Philadelphia/Delaware) and Zabel.

Zabel (D-Drexel Hill), first elected in 2018, sent a letter to House Democratic leadership Friday saying he would resign from committees and seek treatment for an undisclosed illness. However, he refused to give up his $102,844-a-year job.

Multiple allegations of Zabel’s mistreatment of women have surfaced in recent days, though his inappropriate behavior was an open secret among House members, legislators have since confirmed.

“Women have spent generations breaking down barriers to hold positions of public trust and confidence, but the disgusting unwanted sexual advances by people like Rep. Zabel have continuously held women back or slowed the progress they have made,” the letter said. “Too often, the behavior of such men and the silent complicity of others has, sadly, prevented others from even believing the truth.

“Knowing Rep. Zabel will not be serving in the halls of the Capitol is the only way women who have had to deal with the grotesque and repeated conduct from this serial harasser will be able to feel safe,” the letter said.

Marcell, a first-term member of the House, has been outspoken in her calls for Democrats to set aside partisanship and stand with Zabel’s alleged victims.

“What makes this situation even more intolerable is that House Democratic leadership, which has at times consisted of several different women, covered up these actions and remained silent until Rep. Zabel was finally caught. The timeline of how his identity was kept quiet – despite his identity being reported as ‘an open secret’ by the news media in the weeks preceding– is there for everyone to see.”

“The speaker’s call for a vote to shut down the mention of Rep. Zabel’s name during the House rules vote is there for anyone to see. How can we allow Rep. Zabel to continue to hold the title and position of trust he abused – especially when he has yet to deny any of the accusations made against him? How can any party prioritize its political power and voting margin over women’s safety?” Marcell asked.

During a podcast with DVJournal, Marcell said she had been warned by a “number of female colleagues to avoid being around” Zabel.

Zabel has refused to respond to Marcell’s story and has ignored repeated requests for comment. In a sign Democrats are even more on the defensive as this scandal unfolds, a McClinton spokeswoman said Monday she was a ” no comment” as well.

“As disturbing allegations continue to mount against Rep. Zabel, it’s clear that Speaker McClinton and Democratic leadership will not address these allegations in an effort to protect their razor-thin majority,” said Republican Senate Leadership Committee Deputy Communications Director Mason Di Palma. “Rep. Zabel is no longer able to serve the people of his district effectively and should resign immediately. Democrats’ silence on this matter shows that they are only concerned with holding onto power and not standing by victims of sexual abuse.”

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Zabel Steps Down from Committees, Will Not Resign

Embattled state Rep. Mike Zabel sent a letter to the Democratic Caucus saying that he is resigning from the judiciary committee and stepping down from his assignments.  He blames an undisclosed illness for his behavior.

However, he will not resign from the legislature as Republicans have demanded.

Zabel (D-Drexel Hill) has been accused of sexual harassment by several women, including 32BJ SEIU lobbyist Andi Perez and Colleen Kennedy, Zabel’s former campaign manager.

Both women claimed that Zabel inappropriately touched them.  Another female representative who remains anonymous also described troubling behavior.

In his letter, Zabel claims that he has an “illness” that he is being treated for as an outpatient and that he plans to enter an inpatient program “as soon as possible.”

“My illness has caused some behavior that I regret, and I agree that additional intervention is necessary for me to fully recover. I am in the process of securing additional intensive treatment beyond the outpatient treatment I have been receiving and am currently working with my health care providers and my family to identify an appropriate inpatient program which I will be entering as soon as possible,” Zabel said.

“I sincerely appreciate your commitment to ensuring the district offices of the 163rd Legislative District remain open and available to serve constituents while I take this time to focus on my health and family. My goal has always been to serve the people of my district in the best way possible and I am confident that they are in good hands during this difficult time.”

Zabel added, “I was proud to vote for our new House Rules this week, which include expanded protections for sexual harassment claims. I am grateful for the leadership shown by my caucus to ensure a fair process for reviewing such claims. I will cooperate fully with the Ethics Committee in considering any allegations against me.”

The House Democratic leaders released this response: “While Rep. Zabel has declined to resign, we agree that it is appropriate for him to take a step back from his work and focus on the challenges before him.

“Stepping back includes resigning from the Judiciary Committee, not taking other committee assignments, and entrusting the Democratic Caucus with constituent services for people of 163rd legislative district.”

House Democrats for the first time have created a process for handling claims of harassment and discrimination through the enactment of new rules and expect the newly empowered Ethics Committee to thoroughly and expeditiously review any and all claims that come forward. To that end, next week, the Ethics Committee website will be updated with information and procedures on how individuals can submit claims. Everyone deserves to be safe at work and our caucus commends and respects the courage of those who come forward.”

Jason Gottesman, press secretary to House Republican Leader Bryon Cutler sent this response, “While it is appropriate for Rep. Zabel to seek treatment and whatever medical attention he needs, it does not eliminate the culpability for his actions. At this point, we have only seen obfuscation, not accountability. We remain committed to our prior statement calling on him to resign.”


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PA House Dems Knew About Zabel but Did Nothing, GOP Women Say

When Bucks County Rep. Kristen Marcell first came to the House in Harrisburg, fellow members took her aside and gave her a warning.

Stay away from Mike Zabel.

“As a freshman female member, there were a number of female colleagues who shared with me that I should avoid being around [Zabel] when I first joined the House,” Marcell told DVJournal in a podcast interview Thursday. “I didn’t even know what he looked like at that point or any of the details. I found it very interesting that I was warned about him.”

Today, Marcell knows why. The Delaware County Democrat has been accused by multiple women of unwanted touching and inappropriate behavior.

For weeks, Pennsylvania politics has been roiled by reports of sexual harassment by an unidentified member of the House Democratic caucus. On Wednesday, Broad + Liberty broke the news it was Zabel (D-Drexel Hill), along with a new allegation of inappropriate behavior.

The problem first went public in January when SEIU lobbyist Andi Perez shared the story of a lawmaker she declined to identify who groped her.

“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 at the time. “He did not.”

That lawmaker was Zabel, she later confirmed.

Broad + Liberty also reported the firsthand account of a female state rep who says a drunken Zabel propositioned her and later followed her to her car.

“He [Zabel] came up to me and he couldn’t stop telling me how great I looked. But then he was — he kept putting his arm around me and saying like, ‘Hey, we should get outta here. Like, do you wanna go upstairs with me?’”

On Thursday, GOP House leaders called on Democrats to join them in demanding Zabel’s resignation.

“In 2018, our colleagues on the other side of the aisle said, ‘Anyone accused of a credible violation like this should resign their position.’ Now that a member of their caucus has been credibly accused of multiple and serious incidents of sexual harassment, it would be our hope that Democrats would join us in calling on Rep. Zabel to resign,” GOP leaders said in a statement.

Among the signatories were GOP Caucus Leader Bryan Cutler (R-Lancaster), Caucus Secretary Martina White (R-Philadelphia) and Caucus Administrator Sheryl Delozier (R-Cumberland).

“Unfortunately, recent news reports and additional accusations have made it clear that generations of House Democratic leadership have known of Zabel’s actions but chose to ignore and cover up his behavior instead of taking action to protect the women in this capitol,” they added.

“Regardless of who you are or where you work, sexual harassment is never acceptable and cannot be tolerated,” Sen. Tracy Pennycuick (R-Bucks/Montgomery) said. “Better mechanisms must be put in place for victims to file complaints when these incidents occur so that their voices are heard, and ensure that perpetrators are brought to justice. There needs to be a full and thorough investigation and proper action must be taken.” Pennycuick had previously served in the House until being elected to the Senate in 2022.

In a podcast interview with DVJournal, White denounced the decision of Democratic leaders to remain silent about Zabel. She also warned the party’s continued embrace of the Drexel Hill Democrat would leave a stain on their reputation — particularly the new Speaker of the House, Joanna McClinton (D-Philadelphia/Delaware), who has portrayed herself as a champion of social justice.

White said that in January when the Perez story broke, she wrote then-Speaker Mark Rozzi and Democratic Caucus Leader McClinton “asking them to investigate, find out exactly who the member is, hold them accountable and call for their resignation. “Unfortunately, to this day they’ve never responded to that request.”

The reason Democrats haven’t acted, White said, is basic political math. They need every vote to hold their slender 102 to 100 majority.

“This is solely about maintaining power,” White said. “They wanted to make sure Rep. Zabel was on the floor to vote for leader McClinton to become Speaker of the House. It’s a complete disgrace.”

And, she added, “The fact McClinton got there on the back of a sexual harasser is just sad. It’s going to bear out as her legacy.”

Zabel has yet to respond to the allegations.

Asked if she feels safe in the House today, Marcell said no. And she was not the only woman who felt that way.

“At times I don’t feel safe in Harrisburg, knowing that for years, things may have been happening and there wasn’t an avenue for people to report them through the Ethics Committee,” Marcell said. “And from what I’ve heard from a number of females, both women [working in] government affairs as well as female colleagues, there’s really a need for change in Harrisburg.”

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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.

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