HARRISBURG (AP) — A Pennsylvania state representative accused of sexual harassment said Friday he is not resigning but has stepped down from the Judiciary Committee and plans to enter inpatient treatment of some kind.
In a letter to House Democratic leaders, Rep. Mike Zabel of Delaware County said he was “very mindful of and saddened by the sensitive and disturbing allegations against me.”
A union lobbyist said this week that Zabel sexually harassed her four years ago. She had told the story without naming him in January during a public hearing by a bipartisan committee considering rules changes.
Andi Perez said Zabel had caressed her leg while they were discussing legislation outside the Capitol and that he did not stop when she moved away from him.
Perez’s union said in response that Zabel should resign. “We hope he gets the help he feels he needs, but he is correct — his behavior has no place in the Legislature and he should no longer be a member” of the Pennsylvania House of Representatives, according to the statement by the SEIU Pennsylvania State Council.
Zabel, a Democrat first elected in 2018, did not respond to requests for comment Friday, but his letter to Democratic leaders referred to an unspecified illness, saying he wanted to focus on recovery.
“My illness has caused some behavior that I regret, and I agree that additional intervention is necessary for me to fully recover,” Zabel wrote. “I am in the process of securing additional intensive treatment, beyond the outpatient treatment I have been receiving, and 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.”
Zabel wrote that he intends to cooperate fully with the House Ethics Committee “in considering any allegations against me” and apologized for putting fellow House Democrats in a “difficult position.”
Democratic leadership released Zabel’s letter to reporters along with their own statement saying “we agree that it is appropriate for him to take a step back from his work and focus on the challenges before him.”
House Republican leaders maintain Zabel should resign.
“While it is appropriate for Rep. Zabel to seek treatment and whatever medical attention he needs, it does not eliminate the culpability for his actions. At this point, we have only seen obfuscation, not accountability, from a Democratic caucus that has known about this conduct for years,” said House GOP spokesman Jason Gottesman.
Perez was unable four years ago to file a complaint with the House Ethics Committee because such complaints could only be made by the chamber’s employees, representatives and officers. Zabel voted with all his fellow Democrats this week for a package of 2023-24 session chamber rules that, among other things, greatly expands who can file those complaints.
The Associated Press generally does not identify people who say they have been sexually assaulted or subjected to extreme abuse. Decisions on whether to identify those who say they have been subjected to other forms of sexual misconduct are made on a case-by-case basis, and Perez has spoken in public about it.
The AP found that since 2017, at least 120 state lawmakers in 41 states have faced public allegations of sexual misconduct or harassment. Most of the allegations have been made after the #MeToo movement sparked a public reckoning for people in power accused of sexual wrongdoing.