NZ’s PM says sorry for pulling wait­ress’ hair


New Zealand Prime Min­is­ter John Key pub­licly apol­o­gized Wed­nes­day to a wait­ress who la­beled him a “school­yard bully” for re­peat­edly pulling her pony­tail on vis­its to her cafe.

As women’s groups ex­pressed out­rage, Key said he now re­al­ized his be­hav­ior was in­ap­pro­pri­ate but in­sisted he was merely “hors­ing around,” not act­ing ma­li­ciously.

“It was all in the con­text of a bit of ban­ter that was go­ing on,” he told TVNZ, say­ing he apol­o­gized and gave the woman two bot­tles of wine when he re­al­ized she had taken of­fense.

The un­named Auck­land wait­ress re­counted her story in an anony­mous col­umn on left-wing web­site thedai­ly­, say­ing the con­ser­va­tive leader’s ac­tions re­duced her to tears.

She said Key per­sisted in tug­ging her hair on at least half a dozen sep­a­rate oc­ca­sions, even though she had clearly sig­naled her dis­plea­sure and once warned his se­cu­rity de­tail she would punch him if he con­tin­ued.

At one point, Key’s wife Bron­agh told him “leave the poor girl alone,” the woman wrote, say­ing that the prime min­is­ter gave the im­pres­sion “that he just didn’t care.”

“He was like the school­yard bully tug­ging on the lit­tle girls’ hair try­ing to get a re­ac­tion, experiencing that feel­ing of power,” she said in the blog.

The wait­ress said Key even­tu­ally got the mes­sage and stopped tor­ment­ing her in late March, telling her he had not re­al­ized how up­set she was at his be­hav­ior, which lasted for sev­eral months.

“Re­ally?! That was al­most more of­fen­sive than the ha­rass­ment it­self,” she wrote.

‘Crossed the line’

Key won a third term in of­fice last year and is nor­mally renowned for his po­lit­i­cal radar, en­joy­ing 49-per­cent sup­port in opin­ion polls even af­ter seven years in power.

Quizzed on whether he had acted ap­pro­pri­ately, the 53-yearold said he had vis­ited the cafe for years and had a fun re­la­tion­ship with staff, in­clud­ing prac­ti­cal jokes.

“It’s a very warm, friendly re­la­tion­ship. In that con­text you’d say yes, but if you look at it now, no,” he said.

The row stirred a strong re­ac­tion on so­cial me­dia and was soon trend­ing on Twit­ter un­der the hash­tag #pony­tail­gate, with most crit­i­ciz­ing Key but some say­ing it would not af­fect his pop­u­lar­ity rat­ings.

The Na­tional Women’s Coun­cil said it was dif­fi­cult for a fe­male cafe worker to stand up to the prime min­is­ter and Key had “crossed the line” with his un­wanted touch­ing.

“The fact that our prime min­is­ter has joined the list of peo­ple outed for sex­ism high­lights how much sex­ism is part of our cul­ture. And it starts at the top,” it said.

Hu­man Rights Com­mis­sioner Jackie Blue also weighed in say­ing: “It’s never OK to touch some­one with­out their per­mis­sion.”

Green Party co-leader Me­tiria Turei de­scribed Key’s be­hav­ior as “weird,” say­ing it was dis­re­spect­ful to­wards the woman and her job.

“New Zealan­ders know you can’t walk into a cafe and start tug­ging on some­one’s hair, es­pe­cially if they’ve told you they don’t like it,” she told re­porters.

“John Key should be held to the same stan­dards as the rest of us.”


In this June 20, 2014 file photo, New Zealand’s Prime Min­is­ter John Key lis­tens to U.S. Pres­i­dent Barack Obama in the Oval Of­fice of the White House in Wash­ing­ton, D.C.

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