Pilgrim-Hunter Ends Bid to Supplant Espada in Senate

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Desiree Pilgrim-Hunter, the community activist who led the local fight to defeat the mayor’s plans to build a mall in the Kingsbridge Armory, told the Bronx News Network late on Tuesday that she was ending her candidacy for state Senate in the 33rd District.

“This has been one of the hardest decisions I’ll ever have to make,” she said. “In the interest of making sure that [incumbent state Senator] Pedro Espada is out of office, and also building power in my community, I’ve decided to withdraw.”

Money, or lack of it, was the main reason she decided to end her bid, she said. Despite several fundraisers in supporters’ homes, she had raised only $30,000, while Espada already has more than $300,000 on hand.

“We did a really good job of fundraising,” she said referring to the number of small donors in the community who gave to the campaign. “It wasn’t enough to be able to have an effective fight and win this race.”

Pilgrim-Hunter said that charges made by a local blog relating to her disability status, and the ensuing heated on-line debate, had nothing to do with her decision.(See our article.)

The move comes just two days before candidates are required to submit petitions to get on the ballot. Pilgrim-Hunter says she had little over 1,500 about 3,000 signatures [Pilgrim Hunter called after publication to say that an additional 1,500 signatures collected by the campaign had been brought to her attention.] but that if she didn’t withdraw prior to that deadline, then she wouldn’t be able to remove her name from the primary ballot. As much of a disappointment as it was to her and her team, she said, it would be “worse if we were instrumental in getting Pedro back in office.”

In April, Pilgrim-Hunter, 53, was the first of four Espada challengers to announce their candidacies. The RWDSU (retail workers’ union), which had worked closely with Pilgrim-Hunter on the Armory campaign, endorsed her but other influential unions like 1199 and 32BJ had yet to weigh in probably because they were waiting to see which candidate was strongest after filing petitions and financial reports. Also, the borough’s Democratic Party has yet to back anybody and may not, for fear of alienating Espada, a controversial but powerful politician who singlehandedly brought Albany screeching to a stalemate last summer when he temporarily sided with Republicans, depriving his fellow Democrats of their razor-thin majority.

Pilgrim-Hunter, a leader in the Northwest Bronx Community and Clergy Coalition, with whom she waged the armory battle, says she will remain active in politics but from a different angle. She wants to form a nonprofit 501-c-4 organization to work together with unions and established community organizations to “recruit strong progressive leaders that can enter into all levels of government .”

Such a group would “build community power in a political way which you can’t do as a 501(c)3,” she said. Donations to 501(c)4 groups that are not government entities are not tax-deductible. Many 501(c)3 groups form separate but affiliated 501-c-4’s for the purposes Pilgrim-Hunter describes. Both types of organizations are governed by federal tax law.

Pilgrim-Hunter hasn’t decided yet whether to endorse someone else in the race, but she said she’s clear what she wants the result of the campaign to be.

“Because the goal is to remove Pedro Espada, there has to be just one candidate that is coalesced around,” she said. “It’s clear that if it’s a one-on-one, that’s the best-case scenario. “

Pilgrim-Hunter said she’s not interested in running for elective office herself again. “It is my place to now to develop other [younger] leaders now that I know what it takes,” Pilgrim-Hunter said. “My work is in the community where it all started out. “