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Delco State Rep. Mike Zabel to resign after facing sexual-harassment allegations

Zabel sent his letter of resignation to Speaker Joanna McClinton (D., Philadelphia) on Wednesday afternoon.

State Rep. Mike Zabel
State Rep. Mike ZabelRead moreHouse Democratic Caucus

Hours after a Republican female lawmaker publicly accused State Rep. Mike Zabel of sexual harassment Wednesday, the Delaware County Democrat said he would resign.

At least three people came forward in the last week, accusing Zabel of sexually harassing them while inebriated. Despite calls from even some Democrats, House Democratic leaders overseeing a razor-thin new majority never publicly asked him to step down but accepted his resignation Wednesday.

As part of a news conference marking International Women’s Day earlier in the day, Rep. Abby Major (R., Armstrong) accused Zabel of sexually harassing and following her at a bar in November. She and 15 other female House GOP members had called for his resignation, as well as at least a dozen House Democrats, several Senate Democrats, and House GOP leadership.

“At this time, I will be stepping back from this role to focus on my family and my health,” Zabel wrote in a letter to House Speaker Joanna McClinton (D., Philadelphia) on Wednesday afternoon.

His resignation will take effect March 16.

Zabel, who lives in Drexel Hill, was first elected to the House in 2018. House Democratic leaders said he made the decision “to do what is best for his family, the people he represents, and the state House of Representatives.”

The resignation marked the latest twist in a controversy that has strained House Democrats’ unity. With a fragile majority, they must remain united to advance their agenda. Now, they face a special election to replace Zabel and must work to move forward while continuing to investigate ethics complaints against him.

After Zabel’s resignation, House Democrats will maintain a one-seat majority. As of March 16, there will be a 101-100 split, while Republicans await a special election May 16 — the same day as the May primary — to replace State Sen. Lynda Culver Schlegel’s former House seat in a district that’s likely to remain in GOP control. Democrats would be favored to win a special election in Zabel’s district, setting them up to maintain a one-seat majority after both of those vacancies are filled.

McClinton is required to give 60 days’ notice for a special election. While the speaker hadn’t announced a date as of Wednesday afternoon, the timing of Zabel’s resignation means a May 16 special election would comply with necessary election deadlines.

Each party will pick its nominees. “We will have a transparent process,” said Colleen Guiney, chair of the Delaware County Democrats.

“I think obviously Mr. Zabel did the right thing by resigning,” said Frank Agovino, chair of the Delaware County GOP. “We remain disappointed, though, that it took this long to get here, and that largely the local Democrat delegation was really kind of silent on it.”

Zabel’s resignation reverses his statement last week that he would not resign but would instead step back from his committee assignments. House Democratic leaders at the time said they agreed with his decision.

He said in a letter to House leaders Friday that he’s seeking inpatient treatment for an unnamed illness. People familiar with the matter say Zabel has struggled with alcohol.

Major said Wednesday she originally planned to give Zabel “a pass” for his drunken, inappropriate behavior until Andi Perez, a top lobbyist for the Service Employees International Union 32BJ, told Spotlight PA in an article published last week that he sexually harassed her in 2019.

Major publicly accused Zabel of peppering her with compliments that made her uncomfortable, touching her back, and later following to her car. She asked another male colleague to walk her to her car after the encounter.

“To the men listening to this, you’ll 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,” she said.

Major’s account was originally published anonymously on the conservative website Broad and Liberty last week. She is one of three people who have accused Zabel of sexual harassment. Zabel’s 2018 campaign manager, Colleen Kennedy, also accused him in a blog post last week of acting inappropriately toward her and others while intoxicated.

Following Zabel’s resignation, Major said in a statement that fearlessness from a handful of people made it happen.

“It was women who forced his resignation, and it will be women who continue to expose predatory behavior on both sides of the aisle,” Major added.

Perez, the first victim to publicly accuse Zabel, said in a statement that she is comforted that Zabel will be leaving his office.

“No one who sexually harasses people should get to keep their job, and Mike Zabel is no different,” Perez said. “Harassment is not a partisan issue, and anyone who engages in this type of behavior has no place in the legislature.”

Kennedy said Zabel’s resignation, and new House rules on misconduct, “will not end the crisis of sexual harassment, rape culture and retaliation that plagues our State Capitol and our political campaigns.”

Zabel apologized to his colleagues in a letter last week for “the difficult position that I created for our caucus and our colleagues.” House Democrats just gained a razor-thin majority last month and want to maintain it.

A spokesperson for McClinton said in an email Wednesday that having the special election on the May 16 primary day “would work” and meet necessary election deadlines.

In a statement Wednesday afternoon, House Democrats reiterated their commitment to hearing ethics complaints from the last five years as part of an expansion of House operating rules for sexual -harassment cases. A website will be posted “soon” for victims to upload their complaints. Zabel’s district offices will remain open.

Sen. Lindsey Williams (D., Allegheny) was the first lawmaker in the General Assembly to call for Zabel’s resignation. She said she’s glad he finally resigned but will now shift her focus to updating the sexual-harassment rules in the state Senate.

She said she and Sen. Katie Muth (D., Montgomery) will reintroduce an amendment to the Senate’s operating rules to similarly expand sexual-harassment provisions like in the House.

“For me, it has always been about supporting victims and trying to protect the next one,” Williams added.

Staff writer Andrew Seidman contributed to this article.