By Olivia DeMarco
It has been weeks since news broke that House Democrats were aware of the sexual assault allegations made against Rep. Mike Zabel years before media attention at last forced him to resign.
With the nationwide strides made in recent years to raise awareness about sexual harassment in the workplace, how was this apparent cover-up allowed to happen? We may never know, considering there has been virtually no further scrutiny in the aftermath – including, but not limited, to a formal investigation.
As a recap of what we know, reports have shown that top Delco Democratic Caucus members, such as #MeToo advocate Rep. Leanne Krueger, allegedly knew about Zabel’s inappropriate behavior dating back several years. These allegations came to light when lobbyist Andi Perez confronted House Democratic leadership about their failure to take action concerning the complaints she filed against Zabel years ago. Rep. Abby Major, a fellow House member, also came forward with her experience with Zabel’s inappropriate behavior. Inconveniently for the Democrats, this came at a time when they held a majority in the House by just one seat.
Had lobbyist Andi Perez chosen not to speak out publicly about her experience and House Democratic leadership’s inaction, Zabel would likely still be in office today.
In the wake of the #MeToo movement, one would believe that there would be significantly more scrutiny of this alleged cover-up, or at the very least an investigation in the aftermath. This isn’t far out of the realm of possibility given how other government scandals have been handled – both statewide and in the greater Philadelphia region.
For example, when it was discovered that employees in former Pennsylvania Attorney General Kathleen Kane’s office had been exchanging lewd images and inappropriate messages via their government emails, the state hired law firm BuckleySander to do an extensive review of state employees’ emails to discover “racist, misogynistic or otherwise offensive material.” The review discovered nearly 12,000 emails that investigators deemed inappropriate.
Another example deals with the Central Bucks School District, which the ACLU accused of engaging in “discriminatory district policies, behaviors and directives” against LGBT students, resulting in what they called “pervasive bullying.” This resulted in the U.S. Dept. of Education’s Office for Civil Rights launching a formal investigation into the accusations, acting as a “neutral factfinder” to analyze the evidence brought forth by the ACLU, the school district, and other sources.
While these are just two examples, they demonstrate the ways in which our government at different levels has sought to improve public services and workplace environments through identifying areas of past failures. It ultimately benefits no one, with the exception of those with nefarious or political interests, when we don’t improve accountability in government.
So why don’t we try to determine how someone working in or around the state capitol can file a credible complaint against a sitting House member, without any action being taken as a result?
If there will be no formal investigation into this institutional failure, perhaps the public is at least owed an explanation by Democratic House leadership as to why the accusations were ignored for as long as they were. Otherwise, what is to lead anyone to believe that other claims of sexual harassment won’t go unaddressed?
Trust in government – crucial to institutional stability – is wavering right now nationwide. An investigation into this matter, to promote transparency and prevention, would be an important step forward.
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 UniversitIt