WASHINGTON (UPI) -- Secretary of Agriculture Earl L. Butz resigned today after making a disparaging racial remark which embarrassed President Ford's administration.
Butz, 67, ended his five-year tenure as a Cabinet member after meeting with Ford at the White House. Politicians from both parties had urged Ford to fire Butz, but many farm leaders said the Agriculture secretary should remain on the job.
Butz told a White House news conference he decided to step aside "in the best interests" of Ford's election campaign and administration.
"I have just submitted my letter of resignation and the president has accepted it," Butz said.
"I sincerely apologize for any offense that may have been caused by the unfortunate choice of language used in recent conversation and reported publicly.
"It has been a high privilege to serve as a member of the Ford administration. American farmers will always be grateful to you for your solid support of our efforts to raise their incomes and to permit them to manage their farms without excessive governmental regulation.
"I shall always be your ardent supporter."
Butz's offending remark took place on an airliner leaving Kansas City after the Republican National Convention in August and concerned a vulgar listing of what pleased blacks.
Besides his letter of resignation and his oral statement to reporters at the White House, Butz issued a written statement saying, "This is the price I pay for a gross indiscretion in a private conversation. The use of a bad racial commentary in no way reflects my real attitude."
"By taking this action, I hope to remove even the appearance of racism as an issue in the Ford campaign," the statement said.
Ford had valued Butz in the campaign because of the secretary's respect and influence in the traditional Republican Midwest farm areas where some falling prices and last year's temporary foreign grain export embargo weakened the president.
Before Butz announced his resignation, several farms group had said they still supported the Agriculture secretary.
Allan Grant, president o the American Farm Bureau Federation, issued a statement from Park Ridge, Ill., today expressing support for Butz.
"I know that Secretary Butz is not a racist," Grant said. "He has already suffered great distress because of his unfortunate remarks made in private, and he has made a public apology for them."