New Zealand PM John Key embroiled in ponytail-pull furore

Prime Minister John Key speaks during the official opening of the Pukeahu National War Memorial Park on April 18, 2015 in Wellington, New Zealand, ahead of the centenary ANZAC commemorations.

Story highlights

  • Kiwi Prime Minister accused of pulling a waitress' hair on several occasions despite her obvious discomfort
  • PM Key later apologized, but said that he was merely engaging in "banter"
  • Politicians and public figures have condemned his behavior

(CNN)New Zealand's leader seems to have gone from premier to playground bully.

Prime Minister John Key has apologized to a waitress at his local cafe for repeatedly tugging on her ponytail, after the woman complained about his behavior in a blog post.
    The post, published on New Zealand political website The Daily Blog, says that the odd behavior began during last year's election season.
    It was "hardly an acceptable form of greeting," the post's anonymous author, who apparently works as a waitress at a cafe named Rosie, points out.
    She wrote that while she didn't directly make her objections clear verbally, her body language "screamed 'I don't like that.'"
    "As he approached me, he thought it would be fitting to raise his hands high and make scary, suspense sound effects, like the music from the movie 'Jaws'," the woman wrote.
    "As he towered overhead I slunk down, cringing, whilst (Key's wife) Bronagh told him to 'Leave the poor girl alone.'"

    Frequent transgressions

    The behavior carried on for a number of months and on several occasions, the post states.
    Eventually the cafe's manager made it clear to Key that his actions were unwelcome.
    Key, who regularly visits the Auckland cafe with his wife, told reporters that his behavior was in the context of "a bit of banter," but said that he had apologized when it was clear she had taken offense.
    The blog post says that the prime minister offered the offended waitress two bottles of his own JK 2012 Pinot Noir wine by way of apology.
    "We have lots of fun and games there, there's always lots of practical jokes and things. It's a very warm and friendly relationship," he told reporters in Los Angeles en route to ANZAC day commemorations in Gallipoli, Turkey.
    "But if you look at it now, no. When I realized she took offense by that I just sort of immediately went back, gave her some wine, apologized and said I was terribly sorry."

    Criticism of Key

    Politicians and public figures also rounded on Key, with Green MP Metiria Turei saying that the prime minister should be held to the same standards of behavior as the rest of the electorate.
    "A lot of New Zealanders know what it's like to feel as if you're not taken seriously in a job. As politicians, our job is to make people feel safe at work, not bullied," New Zealand media reported her as saying.
    "It's a sign of how out of touch John Key has become when he can't even monitor how inappropriate his personal behavior is, and when people are not comfortable with how he is behaving."
    Jackie Blue, head of the Equal Employment Opportunities Commission, echoed the sentiment.
    "It's never OK to touch someone without their permission," CNN affiliate TVNZ reported her as saying. "There are no exceptions."
    The National Council of Women of New Zealand, while accepting that Key was joking and did not mean to offend, criticized the premier.
    "The fact that our Prime Minister has joined the list of people outed for sexism highlights how much sexism is a part of our culture. And it starts at the top," the organization's chief executive Sue McCabe wrote in an open letter.
    "Up and down this country, day after day, people are touched without giving their consent. At one end of the scale, it is an unwelcome pull on a ponytail. At the other end, it's our shocking levels of violence against women."