Activist Desiree Pilgrim-Hunter will officially announce her primary challenge to Senate Majority Leader Pedro Espada Jr. at 11 a.m. tomorrow outside the Bronx Library Center, and she has retained a firm that is intimately familiar with the Senate and the Democratic conference to help her try to unseat an incumbent many in her party love to hate.


Pilgrim-Hunter, described in the press release touting her impending announcement as a “community organizer and president of Fordham Hill Cooperative Apartments,” is being repped by BerlinRosen, a firm started by Valerie Berlin and Jonathan Rosen – two veterans of the DSCC. The duo struck out on their own after the 2004 election cycle in which the Democrats won three seats from the GOP in what was the start of a successful push to wrest control of the majority for the first time in more than three decades.

The Democrats did not accomplish that feat until 2008, and even then only managed to claim the majority by a slim two-seat margin.

That, of course, enabled Espada and his fellow amigo, former Sen. Hiram Monserrate, to briefly flip the Senate back into Republican hands during the infamous coup last summer. Monserrate returned to the fold within days, but Espada refused, single-handedly deadlocking the chamber and holding his colleagues hostage for more than a month.

Senate Democratic Conference Leader John Sampson has since made a sort of peace-of-necessity with Espada, ever-aware that without his vote, the Democrats can get nothing accomplished. But others have been far less forgiving. Not that this concerns Espada much. He has always been something of an outsider, conferencing with the Republicans during his last stint in the Senate and then running against an incumbent Democrat, former Sen. Efrain Gonzalez Jr., in the 2008 primary. The DSCC supported Gonzalez (although not nearly enough, in his opinion) despite the fact that he was indicted on corruption charges at the time.

Pilgrim-Hunter has also signed on with fundraiser Lisa Hernandez Gioia. She was in talks with another former political consulting firm started by former Democratic Senate staffers, Red Horse Strategies, but the firm ultimately declined to work with her out of fear that to do so would pose a conflict with another client, LG and Senate President candidate Bill Samuels.

Ousting Espada won’t be easy – unless an indictment is forthcoming from AG Andrew Cuomo’s office, and even then it could be tough. Espada is popular in his district, and as of mid-January, he had $252,478 in his campaign account (the main one that he formed as a result of an agreement with the state Board of Elections).