A sitting member of the Pennsylvania House of Representatives gave Broad + Liberty a firsthand account of how three months ago she was propositioned — and later followed to her car — by a drunken Rep. Mike Zabel, a Democrat from Delaware County.
With that account, Broad + Liberty can now confirm that dozens of sources have indicated that Zabel is the person SEIU lobbyist Andi Perez was referring to when she went public with claims earlier this year that a male member of the House had touched her inappropriately.
The female lawmaker, who requested anonymity because of the personal nature of the circumstances, described a November event attended by dozens of other legislators at a hotel, sometime shortly after the fall elections had concluded.
“He [Zabel] came up to me and he couldn’t stop telling me how great I look. But then he was — he kept putting his arm around me and saying like, ‘Hey, we should get outta here. Like, do you wanna go upstairs with me?’”
The alleged pass was broken up by a nearby male friend who intervened, but the episode was not over.
“I go out the door of the [location] and I’m walking down the hallway there and I noticed that he’s behind me, like he’s following me. So I went over into the bathroom and then I walked back to the [location] and I had to ask — I asked another Republican member that was a man if he would walk me to my car,” which that man agreed to do.
“And even then, like I turned around when we were walking out to my car and [Zabel] was following us out to the car, so it was just creepy.”
“Then I found out after I left that night that there was another sitting member that was at the bar and he followed her to her hotel room,” she added.
The representative also said after she shared her account with other colleagues she was told of the story that Zabel had inappropriately approached and touched Perez. The representative said she was told by others that the Perez incident happened sometime in 2019, a point of evidence Broad + Liberty has not been able to verify.
An emailed request for comment to Zabel as well as to one of his staffers was not returned. Requests for comment to the Democratic House caucus and to Perez were also not returned.
Perez went public with her accusations on Jan. 27, giving unsworn testimony to then-Speaker of the House Mark Rozzi’s listening tour.
“This lawmaker decided to caress my leg — I was wearing a skirt — all the while telling me he was impressed by my passion and knowledge of the issues we were discussing. … I moved away from him, hoping he would stop,“ Perez said at the time. “He did not.”
Perez did not directly name Zabel, however. Perez’s testimony also highlighted that House rules make it so that bringing an ethics charge against a sitting representative is only open to a select group of people — and Perez was on the outside of that circle.
More than three weeks after Perez first levied her accusation, Broad + Liberty reported that the identity of the alleged groper was “one of the worst-kept secrets in Harrisburg political circles, yet that member appears to be facing no discipline for the misconduct while Democratic leadership seems content to allow the issue to evaporate without consequence.”
Members of the House Democratic caucus also did not respond to requests for comment to that story. Zabel did not respond to a request for comment at that time.
PennLive confirmed the most consequential part of that Broad + Liberty report, namely that “Republican and Democratic members have privately told PennLive [the accused] is a member of the Democratic caucus.”
The lawmaker who shared her story with Broad + Liberty also said she is suspicious that Democrats have been postponing any action against Zabel until the House passes a rules package — a typically routine event that has become the largest point of contention between the two parties this session. Rules are typically passed at the very beginning of the session, but two months since being sworn into office, House members have not yet done so.
A rules package was under consideration and debate as this story was being published mid-day Wednesday, in the wake of the resignation of Mark Rozzi as Speaker of the House, and the subsequent election of Rep. Joanna McClinton to that role.
The source also indicated that she, along with one other member of the House, as well as a different lobbyist, have shared their own stories of Zabel with a member or members of the Capitol press corps last week, but no story has yet been published.
Perez shared her story with Rozzi’s listening tour specifically because she was galled that House rules severely limited who could file an ethics complaint, and because of the narrow scope, she felt as though she was left without recourse.
Zabel, who represents House District 163, was first elected to the Pennsylvania House in 2018, after defeating Republican incumbent James Santora 53-46 — or in raw vote totals, 15,417 to 13,471.
After the most recent round of redistricting, the district’s partisan voting index leans Democratic, but Republicans have often been successful in municipal races within the district. Overall the redistricting process favored Democrats more than previous incarnations, as the party took a one seat majority of House seats despite losing the statewide vote by more than 350,000 votes.
Almost exactly three years ago, Zabel was featured prominently in a video distributed on the Pennsylvania House Democrats’ Youtube channel, talking about the necessity of reducing sexual misconduct in the workplace
“We’re here today to talk about the problem of sexual harassment. Every Pennsylvanian has the right to work in an environment where they’re not sexually harassed or retaliated against for reporting sexual harassment,” he said on the video.
In 2018, he also authored an opinion piece for the Delco Times, titled, “Coming to grips with reality of sexual violence.”
“The power that survivors have created for themselves should be amplified, not questioned. It should be supported, not undermined by failed policies, unfunded mandates, and false tropes about their victimization in the news media,” he wrote.
“In both chambers of the state legislature I am running to join, there are men credibly accused of sexual harassment, sexual assault, forcible rape, and threats of attempted murder, who sit in those hallowed halls without any real consequences. There isn’t a single day I don’t think about the weight of that, of the survivors in my district, in my family, on my staff, who walk around in a world where their experiences are not recognized, where their humanity is not made whole,” he said in the conclusion.
Update: This article was edited from its original version to include the 2019 Youtube video, and the 2018 op-ed.
Todd Shepherd is Broad + Liberty’s chief investigative reporter. Send him tips at firstname.lastname@example.org, or use his encrypted email at email@example.com. @shepherdreports