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Mashantucket Pequots elect council chairman and members

MASHANTUCKET, Conn. – The Mashantucket Pequot Tribal Nation has elected Rodney Butler as the new chairman of the tribal council.

Butler, an incumbent on the council, was elected chairman by fellow council members after winning his third three-year term to the council in an election Nov. 1 by the nation’s approximately 450 adult voters aged 18 and over.

Eighteen candidates competed for the three open seats on the council.

Two new council members – Crystal M. Whipple and Steven Thomas – were also elected for three-year terms. All terms will begin Jan. 1, 2010.

Butler, who has been the nation’s treasurer, issued a prepared statement.

“I am honored and deeply humbled that my family has chosen me to serve as the chairman of the tribal council. We have a proud and rich history and the membership has elected strong representatives to help drive the tribe’s continued success.

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“Working with the tribal council, I will look to protect and advance the sovereign rights of our tribal nation and strengthen and preserve the cultural, social and economic foundation that will support subsequent generations of Mashantucket Pequots. These are challenging times on a number of fronts, but throughout history, our nation has encountered many challenges and has always emerged on the other side brighter, stronger and more independent than before.”

The tribal council oversees the operations of Foxwoods Resort Casino, the largest casino operation in the country, and MGM Grand at Foxwoods.

Butler replaces former Chairman Michael Thomas, who was forced into an administrative leave by the council in the midst of an unprecedented financial crisis at Foxwoods in August when the nation announced it was seeking to restructure $2.3 billion of debt and was at risk of defaulting on $700 million in debt.

A few days before the election took place, the tribal council issued a statement announcing that it had reached a temporary agreement with its creditors to deal with the debt.

The council “has entered into a forbearance agreement with its senior lenders” that extends through Jan. 20, the statement said.

Whipple released a statement that reflected tribal members’ apparent desire for change on the council.

“I feel a tremendous amount of joy that the membership has chosen me as one of their leaders during such a challenging time for our nation. I want to thank the family for supporting me and I feel honored to represent my people. It’s time for change and I think the people have demonstrated that today.”