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EAST CHICAGO | A week after former state Rep. John Aguilera inked an $85,000-a-year consulting contract with the city, he says he's probably not going to run against Mayor George Pabey next year.

"It would look like that was not in the cards," Aguilera said of his likely decision not to run. "I still want to keep my options open for the future."

Some political observers in East Chicago said Aguilera had "sold out" to the first-term mayor -- a criticism that Aguilera said was off-base.

Aguilera said political operatives from former Mayor Robert Pastrick's administration have already been "manipulating" the 2007 mayor's race in an effort to retake control of City Hall. Aguilera said he feared that running against Pabey could help the Pastrick allies.

"I'm not letting the old administration come back and run that city again -- at least I'm not going to take part in it," Aguilera said. "My relationship with George over the past few years hasn't been the best, but I'm looking out for the best interests of the community."

Pabey's spokesman Damian Rico declined comment on Aguilera's statements Wednesday.

Aguilera's comments mean City Councilman Anthony Copeland, who also is chairman of the city Democratic Party, is the only other declared candidate planning to oppose Pabey in next year's primary.

Copeland said it was no coincidence that Aguilera had evidently decided to pull out of the race against his former rival after receiving the city contract.

"They say politics makes strange bedfellows, but d---," Copeland said.

In February, Aguilera announced that he was stepping down from the Legislature after three terms in order to concentrate on other political offices, including a possible run for mayor of East Chicago.

He even formed an exploratory political action committee called the "Aggie Backers." State records did not indicate whether anyone had donated funds to the committee this year.

Last Spring, Aguilera staged a bid for chairmanship of the Lake County Democratic Party but was ultimately defeated after two failed caucus votes forced the state Democratic party to make the appointment. The state party chose Rudy Clay for the post.

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