“Anytime an accusation this serious in nature is made, it is imperative that we alert all women working in the state Capitol, who would otherwise be unwittingly in proximity to an alleged sexual predator. As I have stated before, the women legislators, staff, and interns of the General Assembly deserve better than to find out in the newspaper that a prominent elected official has a concerning history of sexual assault or harassment allegations. The public deserves to know when elected officials have abused their power, period – especially when the allegation is criminal in nature.”
These are the words of state representative Leanne Krueger (D-Delaware), and she is right – women working in and around the state Capitol and the public at large deserve better than to find out in the newspaper that a powerful legislator has a known history of sexual harassment. Democratic leadership shouldn’t have withheld that information about Rep. Zabel, leaving no other outlet for the truth but the news media. Rep Krueger’s statement is spot on in characterizing all of the problems with how the Zabel accusations made by lobbyist Andi Perez and fellow House member Rep. Abby Major, among others, have been mishandled by Democratic House leadership – but that’s actually not what she’s referring to here at all.
The quote above is from five years ago concerning allegations made against former state representative Nick Miccarelli (R-Delaware) in 2018. Despite it being more than a week since Zabel was named, exposing a long-kept secret in Harrisburg, Rep. Krueger still has not released any public statement about the accusations against a fellow member from her home county.
This weekend, news broke in a column by SpotlightPA reporter Stephen Caruso that Krueger knew about the allegations against Zabel immediately after Perez reported them — in 2019.
This should surprise anyone who knows Rep. Krueger’s legislative history, which includes being the prime sponsor of the #METOO PA General Assembly Act (HB 1965), a bill Rep. Krueger herself referred to as a “necessary response to the #METOO movement.” In addition to the quote referenced above, she called for Miccarelli’s resignation within 24 hours of the allegations against him surfacing, stating, “if these allegations are true, I am calling on Nick Miccarelli to resign from the Pennsylvania House, effective immediately.”
Although Rep. Krueger’s radio silence on the Zabel accusations is both disappointing and suspicious given her previous statements, it’s admittedly better than her signing on to the insufficient joint statement that was released last Wednesday morning by five members of the Delco Democratic delegation, state representatives Lisa Borowski, Gina Curry, Carol Kazeem, Jennifer O’Mara, and Regina Young.
Why do I call it insufficient? Most of the statement is spent glorifying the new process in place to file ethics complaints against sitting House members. Who’s going to tell them that their revolutionary new process failed mere days after being implemented?
Seriously, Rep. Abby Major can’t even file a complaint against Rep. Zabel under this system because, per the House Democratic leadership’s new rules, her experience with Rep. Zabel did not occur:
(i) while performing services or duties of the House;
(ii) in or on House designated offices, property or facilities; or
(iii) at a House-sponsored meeting or event.
This seems like a pretty massive oversight, right? Surely House Democrats would consider amending this if it was brought to their attention – an amendment supported by both Zabel accusers, Perez and Rep. Major. Well no, actually. House Republicans explained in a press conference on Wednesday that the Democratic leaders were simply unwilling to adopt the bipartisan bill created by Rep. Kate Klunk (R–York) that would have broadened this provision, allowing for complaints to be filed about harassment occurring outside of the Capitol building and official legislative duties.
Even if she could manage to file a complaint under these rules, it wouldn’t do much good: the Ethics Committee will not convene until March 16 — the day Zabel’s resignation goes into effect. What a remarkable coincidence.
Taking all this into consideration, the joint statement released by the five Delco Democrats reads a bit hollow.
This is especially true considering it made no explicit call for Rep. Zabel to resign or be removed from office if the Ethics Committee found the accusations against him to be credible, even though many other representatives of both parties did so. Instead, they called for “swift action” by the committee. Indeed, the statement about the accused representative failed to even mention him by name. Well, that’s vague.
It’s especially vague considering that Rep. O’Mara, the only member signed onto the joint statement who was in office during the Miccarelli scandal, did not mince words while explicitly calling for Nick Miccarelli’s resignation in 2018.
“I support the call of our elected officials for Rep. Miccarelli to resign. Time’s up. #MeToo,” said Rep. O’Mara, who was named a “#MeToo Candidate” by Glamour Magazine in 2018. In the same statement on the Miccarelli accusations, Rep. O’Mara stated that “all victims of sexual assault and harassment deserve to know that they can ask for help and when they do, their government will be there to help them.”
But this isn’t what happened when lobbyist Andi Perez came forward to House Democratic leadership with her accusations against Rep. Zabel, or when House member Rep. Abby Major came forward with hers.
In both instances, Democratic House leadership made no meaningful effort to help these women. Andi Perez’s story was effectively ignored for years by leadership until she publicly confronted then-Speaker Mark Rozzi on his statewide “listening tour” in January, and Rep. Zabel was finally named just over a week ago.
In the case of Rep. Major, as was previously established, leadership’s failure to honor legislators’ request to expand ethics investigations to cover incidents that occur outside of official legislative duties raises many questions about what was really going on here. (Did I mention yet that House Democrats are clinging to a one seat majority?)
So where is the outrage from the #MeToo Delco Democrats about all of this?
The sanitized public response from Borowski, Curry, Kazeem, Young, and O’Mara clearly made no explicit mention of these specific, egregious failures to protect women. While the statement of State Senator Tim Kearney (D – Delaware) was clearly more pointed, it was similarly painfully diluted by linguistic acrobatics, despite Kearny having introduced a companion bill to Krueger’s #MeToo Act in 2018. At the time Sen. Kearney was working on this bill, he said:
“This is about creating a safe workplace where employees don’t have to look over their shoulders with worry. It’s about creating a system that doesn’t silence survivors, protect offenders, or waste taxpayer money. Going forward, we will ensure that wrongdoers face real repercussions while victims are heard. We will create a Capitol that sets the tone for the entire state.”
But as we know, that isn’t really what happened here with the Zabel accusations. Even Delco’s U.S. Congresswoman, Mary Gay Scanlon, who famously donned white in support of women’s rights at then-President Trump’s 2019 State of the Union Address, championed a number of sexual harassment bills, and has gone on record stating “sexual harassment and violence are pervasive in many workplaces and pose a threat to the success and dignity of all workers,” did not address her local party’s obvious failure to speak out on behalf of the women of her district, county, and state.
Due process is absolutely critical when it comes to investigating matters of sexual misconduct, that’s something that all of the aforementioned state legislators who issued statements got right – and such a public about-face on the matter from the likes of O’Mara is welcome. However, transparency and accountability are equally important.
If politicians running on a platform of women’s rights and #MeToo will ultimately choose not to speak out against their own party leadership’s failure to protect women when it really matters, then please spare us the faux-feminist political theater in the meantime. You had your chance. #TimesUp.
Olivia DeMarco is an Editorial Associate for Broad + Liberty. She previously served as a legislative aide in the Pennsylvania House of Representatives. She holds a Masters in Public Policy from Temple University.