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HARRISBURG — A Pennsylvania lawmaker accused of sexual harassment says he won’t resign from office but will seek treatment for an unnamed “illness.”
In a letter to Pennsylvania House Democratic leadership, state Rep. Mike Zabel (D., Delaware) said he is “very mindful of and saddened by the sensitive and disturbing allegations against me.”
“I will not let myself be a distraction to the important work of this institution. Therefore, I resign my position on the Judiciary Committee effective immediately,” Zabel wrote. “I also will not accept any other committee assignments at this time so that I can better focus on my family, my treatment, and my recovery.”
Zabel said he has an illness that has “caused some behavior that I regret.” He said he is already receiving outpatient treatment and will seek “intensive” inpatient treatment.
A spokesperson for House Democrats declined to comment on the nature of the illness.
In January, Andi Perez, a lobbyist for Service Employees International Union 32BJ, said an unnamed lawmaker harassed her while they discussed a bill outside of the Capitol building. On Wednesday, Perez identified the lawmaker as Zabel in an interview with Spotlight PA, and said the incident took place in 2019.
Spotlight PA corroborated Perez’s account with another woman who witnessed the incident, and also viewed text messages from the day after, in which Zabel apologized for “bad manners.”
Perez told Spotlight PA that she reported the incident to state House Democratic leadership the day after it occurred, but she declined to say how they responded.
At least two other people have also accused Zabel of inappropriate behavior.
One of them, Colleen Kennedy, managed Zabel’s 2018 bid for state House and wrote in a recent personal essay that Zabel’s “relationship with alcohol became a concern” to her during the campaign.
Perez and the SEIU PA State Council have asked Zabel to resign, as have state House Republicans, who said in a statement they “hope that Democrats would join us” in that call.
Shortly after the allegations against Zabel became public, Democratic leaders released a statement, saying, “We are concerned by the allegations we learned today, and take such accusations seriously.”
But as of Friday afternoon, no Democratic leaders, including new Speaker Joanna McClinton of Philadelphia, had called on Zabel to resign, though some members of the party have done so independently.
State Rep. David Delloso (D., Delaware) said Friday on Twitter that he believes “[Perez] and the other accusers and stand[s] with SEIU in asking Rep Mike Zabel to resign immediately.”
Also on Twitter, state Sen. Lindsey Williams (D., Allegheny) wrote that Zabel should “resign immediately,” and that “standing with [Perez] and other victims means holding their harassers accountable.” State Sen. Katie Muth (D., Montgomery) also tweeted an affirmation of that position.
Democratic Gov. Josh Shapiro has not called on Zabel to resign. In a statement, he said the allegations against Zabel are “concerning” and that they “must be taken seriously as the speaker determines the appropriate course of action.”
Perez told Spotlight PA she moved to file a complaint with the state House Ethics Committee — a bipartisan panel that handles internal investigations of lawmakers — shortly after the incident but was told she could not because she wasn’t an employee of the chamber.
Under new rules that lawmakers adopted this week, the Pennsylvania House expanded who can bring such a complaint. The policy applies to “any individual” whom a lawmaker encounters while “performing services or duties of the House,” “in or on House designated offices, property, or facilities,” or “at a House-sponsored meeting or event.”
Sexual harassment is defined in the rules as “unwelcome sexual advances, requests for sexual favors, or other verbal or physical conduct of a sexual nature.”
In a statement this week, Perez thanked “everyone who made this Rules Change possible and voted for its passage,” as well as “everyone who stood by me, and who supports and believes all women and their stories.”
She has not said whether she’ll file an ethics complaint.
In his letter, Zabel did not say whether he would continue to collect his salary while seeking additional treatment. A state House Democratic spokesperson declined to comment on whether he would.
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