A week after a union lobbyist named him specifically and accused him of harassing her s*xually four years ago, a state senator from Pennsylvania filed his letter of resignation. Democratic Representative Mike Zabel of Delaware County informed Democratic Speaker Joanna McClinton in a letter that he would be resigning as of March 16 so that she would have time to order that the vacancy be filled before the May primary.
“The toll is just too great on my family, and was too detrimental to my well-being. I need to focus on what matters,” Zabel said shortly before sending the resignation letter in a brief phone interview with The Associated Press on Wednesday. McClinton’s spokesperson said her office would soon issue a statement.
“Allegations of this nature are impossible to litigate in a public forum,” he wrote in a subsequent text. “It was always my intention to go through the Ethics Committee process and defend myself there. At this point, though, I am unwilling to put my loved ones through any more of this.”
His decision to retire changed from Friday when he had previously informed Democratic House leaders that he was leaving the Judiciary Committee but would not be retiring and intended to seek inpatient care. He declined to go into further detail about his treatment intentions or to address the accusations against him during the phone chat.
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During a hearing in January, Service Employees International Union lobbyist Andi Perez made her accusations public but avoided naming the man in question. Nevertheless, in a statement last week, she specifically accused him of touching her leg when they were talking legislation outside the Capitol and claimed he continued even after she backed away.
Rep. Abby Major, a second-term Republican from Armstrong County, said during a news conference Wednesday for International Women’s Day that she was approached by Zabel at a “local establishment” in Harrisburg in mid-November. She did not know him well, she said. “He was clearly intoxicated, his lips and teeth were stained red from wine,” Major said. He complimented her appearance and put an arm around her, touching her back, Major said.
“He then asked me if I wanted to get out of here and go upstairs,” Major said. She recalled telling a colleague Zabel had propositioned her and “was being a creep.” As a male colleague walked her to her car, she said, she was “stunned” to see Zabel behind them.
Major said other women have told her similar stories about Zabel, some who do not want to speak publicly. “I felt disgusted and sick about their stories, especially in conjunction with mine,” Major said. “It’s showing a clear pattern.” Zabel said in the letter to Democratic leaders last week that he was “very mindful of and saddened by the sensitive and disturbing allegations against me.”
“My illness has caused some behavior that I regret, and I agree that additional intervention is necessary for me to fully recover,” Zabel wrote last week. “I am in the process of securing additional intensive treatment, beyond the outpatient treatment I have been receiving. I 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.”
In the closely divided state House, where Democrats took back control in November after serving as the minority for 12 years, there is presently one open seat. McClintock announced on Tuesday that a special election would be held for the vacant seat in the solidly Republican district of central Pennsylvania on May 16.
Perez’s union, the SEIU Pennsylvania State Council, has said he should resign, as have House Republican leaders and some state representatives of both parties. Democratic leaders had not urged him to leave but said last week they agreed “that it is appropriate for him to take a step back from his work and focus on the challenges before him.”
Lawyer Zabel, who was initially elected in 2018, is wed. He voted last week in favor of a set of chamber rules for the 2023–24 legislative session that, among other things, considerably increased the number of people who can bring complaints against politicians to the House Ethics Committee.
Those who claim to have experienced s*xual assault or severe abuse are typically not identified by The Associated Press. Perez has publicly discussed how decisions regarding identifying persons who claim they have experienced other types of s*xual misconduct are decided on a case-by-case basis.
According to the AP, since 2017, at least 120 state lawmakers have been accused publicly of s*xual misconduct or harassment in 41 states. After the #MeToo movement prompted a public reckoning for those in positions of authority accused of s*xual misconduct, most allegations have been made.