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Pa. House speaker McClinton responds to harassment allegations against Democrat Zabel

Rep. Joanna McClinton sitting in the chamber of the Pennsylvania House of Representatives on Jan. 3, 2023.
Jeremy Long
Rep. Joanna McClinton sitting in the chamber of the Pennsylvania House of Representatives on Jan. 3, 2023.

Democratic House Speaker Joanna McClinton is responding to sexual harassment allegations lodged against a lawmaker of her own party.

At least three people have accused state Rep. Mike Zabel (D-Delaware) of harassing them. Lobbyist Andi Perez told a House panel in January that an unnamed lawmaker groped her while discussing a bill at the state Capitol. Perez later identified that lawmaker as Zabel.

A state lawmaker told news and editorial site Broad & Liberty that Zabel sexually propositioned her and followed her to her car. A third person, Colleen Kennedy, said Zabel harassed them and created a toxic work environment while they were working as his campaign manager.

“That is something that is sensitive,” McClinton said in an interview with WITF’s The Spark Monday. “Me and my leadership team do not take these allegations lightly,” adding an internal ethics body is empowered to look into the allegations under newly-approved House rules.

“Now that we actually have a process [for examining allegations against lawmakers], I want to make sure that that process has time to play out,” McClinton added.

Perez and Kennedy have called on Zabel to resign, but McClinton and House Democrats have so far stopped short of doing so.

McClinton said House Democratic leadership privately talked with Zabel about stepping aside from the legislature, but did not say when. Zabel rejected that request in a letter to leadership, saying he instead has stepped down from his committee work to focus on “treatment and recovery” for an unnamed illness that he says has caused “behavior that I regret.”

“We did have some private conversations with…Rep. Zabel, asking for him to consider resigning because of the distraction, because of the challenges, because it’s more than one person, and we are respecting his response,” McClinton said.

When pressed, the newly-minted House Speaker said she can’t force Zabel to resign, despite the power and influence she holds as speaker.

“I am not any of the state representatives’ boss,” she said. “I can’t just demand someone to give me their resignation, because they’re not my employees.”

When host Scott LaMar asked McClinton whether she is avoiding calling for Zabel’s ouster over concerns that it could disrupt the party’s already-fragile 102-101 majority, she said she is trying to respect the “due process” she believes is owed to the Delco Democrat.

“Due process to me is not just a phrase, or a slogan, or part of our Constitution. Due process has to be afforded to people if there is a process that allows folks to be confronted with these types of claims and allegations,” McClinton said.

The House Ethics Committee is expected to look into the allegations against Zabel. The panel, made up of four lawmakers from either party, can examine “complaints against Members [sic] and House employees alleging unethical conduct” that happened up to five years ago according to new internal rules.