At the Attorney General Primary Debate, Pat Kiernan’s Grass is Green

“I love the way you read the papers,” said one elderly lady roaming the halls of TheTimesCenter, an event space adjacent to The New York Times offices on Eighth Avenue in midtown, after the Democratic attorney general primary debate ended last night.

She was talking to NY1 morning news anchor Pat Kiernan, who moderated the debate. “What I like is that you always find the quirky ones,” she said. “You gotta find a quirky story here and there!”

“Nobody needs to hear about crime for the entire hour and a half in the morning,” Mr. Kiernan answered.

Finding fans has never been a problem for Mr. Kiernan. 

“At some point in the morning, a million New Yorkers watch my program,” Mr. Kiernan said. Not one million at once, he explained, but one million throughout the morning. “And you worry that if you leave — yeah sure they’re all hot on Pat Kiernan now, but if it doesn’t pay the ratings dividends in a year are you out on the street?”

Mr. Kiernan was wearing a gray suit and a blue shirt and tie. His face was caked with makeup from filming the debate. An earbud hung on his collar from a curly wire.

“I’m always happy when asked to moderate these things because it’s nice to get out from behind the glass, out of my bubble at New York One,” he said in an interview with The Observer after debate.

A great deal of Mr. Kiernan’s work is done in a television studio in the very early hours of the morning.

“Even though this is a smaller group, it’s a live audience, they’re reacting, you’re sensing what that audience is doing,” he said. “It’s important for an anchor to touch what it is the audience reacts to.”

Mr. Kiernan got warm and removed his jacket. Moderating a debate of this stature was something new for him.

“Typically it’s been handled in New York by our political unit, so I haven’t been asked to do it, but since last year there’s been a …” Mr. Kiernan took a three-second pause. “A vacuum in the hosting role for that show.”

“I was pressed into action this year,” Mr. Kiernan said.

Mr. Kiernan’s network became a story line in the attorney general race earlier this summer when a car carrying State Senator Eric Schneiderman, one of the candidates, hit a 2008 Chrysler Town & Country owned by NY1 executive editor Melissa Rabinovich on Ninth Avenue in Chelsea near NY1’s studios.

“You’ve been in the news business long enough to know that sometimes the truth is strange,” Mr. Kiernan said about the car accident. “That one had a lot of elements that were hard to believe at first glance.”

The car was being driven by one of Mr. Schneiderman’s staffers, Rachel Kagan, Supreme Court Justice Elena Kagan’s niece. Mr. Schneiderman’s campaign doesn’t let Ms. Kagan drive anymore.

“While those of us covering it as journalists thought we were impartial, it’s someone from New York 1 whose car got hit,” Mr. Kiernan said.

“It’s easier to be impartial when you’re impartial,” he added.

Mr. Kiernan said he doesn’t have plans to leave NY1 anytime soon and he is happy with the amount of freedom he has at the network. “The grass is green where I am,” he said. “The audience responds well to what we do.”

Mr. Kiernan was in high spirits after a recent vacation. He said that he doesn’t normally take as much time off as he did this August.

“When you’re in an on-air job you don’t want to step away from the chair for too long,” he said.

We wondered why.

“Either they forget you or they like the other person better,” he said.

At the Attorney General Primary Debate, Pat Kiernan’s Grass is Green