Pa. Rep. Mike Zabel resigns under growing pressure from sexual harassment accusers

‘It’s showing a clear pattern. How many other women are there?’ Rep. Abby Major said

By: - March 8, 2023 4:15 pm

Pennsylvania state Rep. Mike Zabel, D-Delaware, told House Speaker Joanna McClinton, D-Philadelphia, on Wednesday that he would resign in the wake of sexual harassment allegations from multiple women. 

News of Zabel’s resignation followed a news conference Wednesday morning where Rep. Abby Major, R-Armstrong, identified herself as the lawmaker whom Zabel propositioned last year in a Harrisburg bar before following her to her car.

Major said she knew Zabel only from work-related conversations and that he was clearly intoxicated with a wine-stained mouth when he approached her at the bar. Zabel complimented Major on her recent weight loss, she said.

“I told him ‘thank you’, but he continued pressing the issue, eventually putting his arm around me and touching my back,” Major said.

She extricated herself from the situation by making eye contact and starting a conversation with another lawmaker. But when Major attempted to leave the establishment Zabel started to follow her. Major said she then asked another male colleague to walk her to her car and noticed Zabel was again behind them as they walked through the doors.  

Major’s anonymous accusation was first reported last week by Broad + Liberty as the House debated expanded ethics rules that would let anyone file a sexual harassment charge against a House lawmaker. Previous rules covered only House employees.

The article also confirmed Zabel’s identity as the lawmaker whom Service Employees International Union lobbyist Andi Perez accused of groping her as they discussed legislation. Perez first made the allegation without naming Zabel during a hearing in January led by former Speaker Mark Rozzi, D-Berks.

Zabel told McClinton last week that he would be entering treatment for addiction. On Wednesday he said in an email that he would be stepping back from his role “to focus on my family and my health.” Zabel’s resignation is effective Thursday morning, his email reads. 

House Democratic leaders issued a statement Wednesday that the caucus reaffirmed “its commitment to a safe work environment that encourages people to come forward to have their concerns addressed responsibly and thoroughly.”

In the statement, Democratic leaders noted that during the previous 12 years of Republican leadership, the sexual harassment policy for the House did not protect people who did business with state representatives such as constituents, lobbyists and journalists. 

It also noted that House Republicans voted unanimously against the new rules.

Major and other Republicans on Wednesday said that the new sexual harassment policy doesn’t go far enough. 

“It seems to only count as a violation if the member is performing their official duties on state House property or at a state House-sponsored meeting or event,” Major said. “To my understanding that might not apply to these stories we have heard so far or the other stories I have yet to hear.”

Major said she didn’t think her experience alone was enough to file a complaint.

“That may be because my sexual harassment meter is completely broken,” Major said. “Years of working in male-dominated fields, including the military, have given me an incredibly thick skin for this type of thing.”

Even after learning from a friend about Perez’s experience shortly before Perez spoke out publicly, Major said she minimized the incident in her mind.

“I heard Andy’s story and I thought, ‘well, he didn’t grope me.’ And Isn’t that sad?” Major said. “I’m sure many if not most women can relate to that feeling. Regardless, I thought it pertinent, pertinent enough to add it to my warning for the women who are new to Harrisburg.”

As Major told other women about her experience she learned of another woman who claimed she had a similar experience with Zabel the same night as Major. 

“As I left, he returned to the bar and tried to go upstairs with her,” Major said.

And Major said she spoke to another lobbyist with a story “eerily similar” to Perez’s.

“Both of these women are not comfortable coming forward at this time and can you blame them?” Major said. “This is nerve-racking. I felt disgusted and sick about their stories. Especially in conjunction with mine. It’s showing a clear pattern. How many other women are there?”

Rep. Paul Schemel, R-Franklin, who was a member of Rozzi’s working group to gather public input on House rules, said the House has been without an ethics committee for more than two months. The chamber is not due to return to session until April.

“So that will be 90 days plus, from the day that we were first sworn in, that apparently we have no interest in an ethics committee that could deal with these problems,” Schemel said.

House Democratic spokesperson Nicole Reigelman said the Ethics Committee was established and can accept complaints. Reigelman said the committee will be meeting soon but did not provide a date. 

Its chairperson is Rep. Donna Bullock, D-Philadelphia. The other members are Rep. Mary Isaacson, D- Philadelphia; Rep. Nancy Guenst, D- Montgomery; Rep. Tim Brennan, D- Bucks; Rep. Katie Klunk, R-York; Rep. Tim Bonner, R-Mercer; Rep. Carl Walker Metzgar, R- Somerset; and Rep. Clint Owlett, R- Tioga.

In its statement Wednesday, the House Democratic Caucus said a public website will soon be available with information about the Ethics Committee’s process for collecting and investigating reports of discrimination and harassment. It said Zabel’s district offices will remain open for constituent services.

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Peter Hall
Peter Hall

Peter Hall has been a journalist in Pennsylvania and New Jersey for more than 20 years, most recently covering criminal justice and legal affairs for The Morning Call in Allentown. His career at local newspapers and legal business publications has taken him from school board meetings to the Pennsylvania Supreme Court and many points of interest between. He earned a degree in journalism from Susquehanna University.