MINNEAPOLIS (AP) -- The stakes are much higher in next week's election for chief executive of the Mille Lacs Chippewa band than which person is named head of the tribe.
At issue is a debate about how the tribe should spend about $80 million in profits it earns annually from its casinos.
Incumbent Marge Anderson and challenger Melanie Benjamin are locked in a fierce struggle for votes in Tuesday's election and many say the race is too close to call.
''One day it looks good for one side, then the other day it looks good for the other,'' said Doug Eagle, 60, Minneapolis. ''Marge has been there for a while, she has the trust of the people.'' But Benjamin would ''make some changes beneficial to the people, it sounds like. I haven't made up my mind.''
The debate over how to spend the casino profits and the closeness of the race has given the candidates a greater-than-normal incentive to woo support from urban members of the band.
Anderson has developed a national reputation for using casino money to build schools, housing and other public-works projects and create social programs on the reservation.
Benjamin says many of those initiatives are worthwhile, but too little is known about how casino profits are spent. She said she would hold membership meetings and referendums on tribal budgets and other major issues and consider whether to boost profit-sharing payments above the $1,500 now given annually to each member.
Anderson on Wednesday said she was considering giving members 65 and older monthly payments -- possibly $400 a month -- as tribal social security to supplement their federal Social Security.
Benjamin said she wanted more details before making a similar promise.
''It's a big enough issue, we should have a vote on that,'' adding she needed more information about the tribal budget before deciding.
While a minority of the band's 3,500 members live in the Twin Cities, their votes could become crucial in a close election where increasing payments to members is an issue.
''Here in Minneapolis, we don't get a heck of a lot ... $750 twice a year,'' Eagle said.
The $1,500 a year that urban members get is the same as reservation residents receive, but urban members don't benefit from the reservation public works and social spending.
''What I'd like to see is people get more help with housing,'' he said. ''The rent is outrageous in Minneapolis.''
Other members complained that they don't have the same access to tribal assistance for small business as do people who live on the central Minnesota reservation. Anderson said the government three weeks ago extended business assistance to members living in the Twin Cities.
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