Activist Desiree Pilgrim-Hunter, who has been mulling a primary challenge to Senate Majority Leader Pedro Espada Jr., is putting the pieces in place for a full-fledged campaign by hiring a fundraiser.

Lisa Hernandez Gioia confirmed she has been in talks with Pilgrim-Hunter for about a month and has agreed to sign on to help her raise money.

“It’s important to have good people in Albany and it seems to me that right now not everyone up there in a good person,” Hernandez Gioia told me this afternoon in a brief telephone interview.

Hernandez Gioia, who is married to former Councilman Eric Gioia, said she believes Pilgrim-Hunter is “great” and has done a lot of good things for the community (she was involved in the effort to redevelop the Kingsbridge Armory – a very controversial issue in the Bronx).

Pilgrim-Hunter also had discussions with Red Horse Strategies, a consulting firm headed by Doug Forand, Marc Lapidus and Nathan Smith – three DSCC veterans who were involved in the successful 2008 push by the Democrats to take control of the Senate majority from the GOP.

Forand said the firm found Pilgrim-Hunter “very compelling” and believes her challenge to Espada Jr. is “winnable.” However, he reluctantly decided in the end that Red Horse couldn’t work for her directly due to a possible conflict with another client, LG candidate Bill Samuels.

Samuels is launching an independent expenditure committee that he says will spend $250,000 apiece on two “reform” candidates. I asked Forand if it’s possible Pilgrim-Hunter would be one of the two. “Yes,” he replied. “It’s very possible.” 

The fact that Red Horse and Samuels, who used to be the DSCC finance chair, would consider helping Pilgrim-Hunter is very telling.

Espada Jr. is certainly no favorite of many Democrats, who have neither forgotten nor forgiven him for his role in the Senate coup and 31-day stalemate last year.

There is certainly no shortage of people who would like very much to get rid of Espada Jr., not the least of which is AG Andrew Cuomo, whose office is investigating the majority leader (the senator has claimed the probe is politically motivated).

The AG, who pledged in 2006 to be the Sheriff of State Street, is reportedly reluctant to formally announce his campaign for governor until after he clears his plate of all matters related to legislative ethics to avoid the poor optics of running against a Legislature with which he’ll have to work.

(This might explain the timing of Assemblywoman Ann-Margaret Carrozza’s abrupt decision not to seek re-election, as she was being investigated by Cuomo’s office, too).

The problem is that Espada Jr. has reached an uneasy peace with Senate Democratic Conference Leader John Sampson, who needs all 32 votes of his conference to get anything passed this session and can’t afford to be seen as working against any of his incumbent members – even the unpopular ones.

That means Pilgrim-Hunter is probably on her own – without DSCC help, anyway – when it comes to the primary. And Espada Jr. is pretty popular in his district, which means he’ll likely be very hard to beat.