Pa. House lawmaker accused of sexual harassment says he will resign

Democrat Mike Zabel announced his decision in a letter to leadership hours after a fellow lawmaker publicly accused him of sexual harassment.

Mike Zabel speaks into a microphone.

Multiple people accused Pennsylvania state Rep. Mike Zabel of sexual harassment. (The Office of Gov. Tom Wolf/Flickr)

This story originally appeared on Spotlight PA.

A Pennsylvania House Democrat accused of sexually harassing multiple people including two sitting Republican lawmakers says he will resign.

State Rep. Mike Zabel (D., Delaware) announced his decision Wednesday in a letter to Pennsylvania House Speaker Joanna McClinton (D., Philadelphia). He said he will resign March 16.

His decision comes a week after union lobbyist Andi Perez publicly accused him of sexually harassing her, and the same day that state Rep. Abby Major (R., Armstrong) made a similar accusation.

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At least two other people have accused Zabel of similar harassment. One is a sitting GOP lawmaker who has requested anonymity; the other is Zabel’s former campaign manager, Colleen Kennedy, who wrote a public essay about his behavior.

Perez, her employer SEIU, state House Republicans including Major, Kennedy, and dozens of rank-and-file Democrats previously called on Zabel to resign. McClinton and other Democratic leaders said they took the “accusations seriously” but did not demand Zabel step down.

Zabel, an attorney who was first elected to a suburban Philadelphia district in 2018, initially rebuffed calls to resign, telling leadership he would seek inpatient treatment for an unnamed illness. He has not responded to Spotlight PA’s multiple requests for comment.

Major told Spotlight PA that in November 2022, Zabel put his arm around her, propositioned her, and then followed her out of a Harrisburg hotel bar where she, Zabel, and other lawmakers had been socializing.

“To the men listening to this, you will never understand the feeling of a man touching you, following you, making you feel incredibly uncomfortable and unsafe, and being able to do nothing about it,” Major said during a news conference Wednesday.

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Major also said Wednesday that on the same night Zabel harassed her, he then “returned to the bar and tried to go upstairs” with another Republican lawmaker.

Spotlight PA spoke to that lawmaker, who requested anonymity to protect her privacy, and she confirmed the incident.

Major made the accusation just days after Perez publicly named Zabel as the lawmaker who she says sexually harassed her in 2019.

At a January meeting organized by then-state House Speaker Mark Rozzi (D., Berks), Perez said an unnamed 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.”

She later identified the lawmaker as Zabel in an interview with Spotlight PA. The news outlet corroborated the incident with another source who witnessed the incident, and viewed a text message from the next morning in which Zabel apologized for his “bad manners.”

Kennedy was Zabel’s campaign manager during his initial bid for office. In an essay and in a conversation with Spotlight PA, she described an incident at a fundraiser in which Zabel, who she says had been drinking, put his arm around her waist “in a way that a person would do that to their partner.”

Kennedy said she assumed that Zabel confused her with his wife, moved away from Zabel, and that he apologized.

“I don’t think that it was necessarily intentional,” Kennedy said. “But I think that due to some drinking that had been happening, that very much confused the situation for him.”

However, Kennedy said she subsequently had “five to 10″ conversations with Zabel about his alcohol use. “I don’t feel that he’s taken a ton of action on those root causes.”

When she shared her experiences with local and state Democratic officials, Kennedy said they “all were varying levels of concerned, but nobody was willing to do anything. They all felt that it wasn’t their job to do anything about it.”

Major told Spotlight PA that when Zabel put his arm around her and propositioned her in 2022, he was “obviously very drunk.”

“I didn’t really care, but I wasn’t interested. I was like, ‘No, thank you’ and that was fine,” Major said.

But after she left the hotel to walk to her car, Zabel followed her, she said. Major said she noticed him, felt uncomfortable, and went back inside to have a Republican colleague walk her out.

Major’s Republican colleague confirmed to Spotlight PA that he walked her to her car, and Spotlight PA viewed text messages that Major sent to another person the next day in which she described the incident.

After Major learned about Perez’s story, she said she began to warn female colleagues in the Capitol to “watch out” for Zabel.

“In the moment, I let it slide because I didn’t know him well enough,” Major said. “I didn’t know he had this history.”

Spotlight PA logoSpotlight PA is an independent, non-partisan newsroom powered by The Philadelphia Inquirer in partnership with PennLive/The Patriot-News, TribLIVE/Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, and WITF Public Media.

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