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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