Sen. Crutchfield says he will resign in time for special election

CHATTANOOGA, Tenn. (AP) - Sen. Ward Crutchfield, who pleaded guilty this week to a federal bribery charge, indicated he would resign in time for voters to select a replacement in a special election.

The Chattanooga Democrat said Friday he believes voters should get the opportunity to have an election, rather than let the Hamilton County Commission name a new senator. "I do prefer to let the people make a choice, and we all know the timetable," Crutchfield said, who declined to say when he would step down except to say it would be soon.

Crutchfield, 78, has to resign before Nov. 4 in order to trigger the special election, said State Election Coordinator Brook Thompson.

If he waits until Nov. 4 or after, the commission would appoint a replacement to fill the seat until Nov. 4, 2008, Thompson said.

Crutchfield admitted taking $3,000 from an undercover FBI agent during the statewide bribery and extortion investigation code named Tennessee Waltz.

Prosecutors dropped a more serious extortion charge against Crutchfield in exchange for his guilty plea.

Tennessee Waltz indictments were returned in May 2005, charging four state lawmakers and a former lawmaker with taking payoffs from a company called E-Cycle Management, which turned out to be a creation of the FBI.

Crutchfield, who has been in the General Assembly for 31 years, is the only lawmaker charged in the investigation who hasn't resigned from office.

Defense lawyer William Farmer said this week that Crutchfield will step aside "in due time," before the Legislature returns to session in January.

The bribery charge to which Crutchfield pleaded guilty carries a maximum of five years in prison and a $250,000 fine, though federal guidelines for a first-time offender would call for a much lighter sentence.

Sentencing was set for Nov. 28. Hamilton County Democratic Party Chairman John Bailes has called for Crutchfield to resign immediately.

"I realized the County Commission was moving towards trying to create ... a momentum that they had control of this," Bailes said.

"This is something the people have to decide not the County Commission." Interest in Crutchfield's Senate seat has already begun in Chattanooga with at least two people announcing their intentions to run if a special election is held.

Chattanooga attorney Andy Berke stated in an e-mail to the Chattanooga Times Free Press that he will make a formal announcement about running next week.

Former Hamilton County Schools Superintendent Don Loftis also said Friday he intends to run if an election is held.

(Copyright 2007 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)