Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick has picked William “Mo” Cowan, his former chief of staff, to serve as the state’s interim US senator until the successor to John F. Kerry is chosen by the voters in a June 25 special election.
“He has been a valued ally to me and our work on behalf of the people of the Commonwealth,” Patrick said at a news conference. “In every step, he has brought preparation, perspective, wisdom, sound judgment, and clarity of purpose.”
Cowan said he was “honored and humbled” to get the temporary post, which will make him the first African-American to represent Massachusetts in the Senate since Edward Brooke held the seat as a Republican from 1966 to 1978.
He said he would “go to work every day with the needs and aspirations” of Massachusetts residents on his mind and would push for jobs, education, and affordable, high-quality health care.
Addressing the governor, he said, “You and the Commonwealth should be assured that I now go to the nation’s capital ever mindful of what matters to the people of Massachusetts.”
He said he was not running for office and was not a “candidate today or any time in the future.” The governor asked him to take the job Tuesday, he said.
Cowan succeeds Kerry, who this week formally resigned from the US Senate seat he held for 28 years and was also confirmed as the nation’s secretary of state by his Senate colleagues in an 94-3 vote.
Patrick formally introduced Cowan as his choice in the chambers of the Governor’s Council in the State House, saying that Cowan had earned respect and admiration of people throughout government for his work in helping the Patrick administration to manage through a bad economy.
Noting Cowan’s humble roots, Patrick said he saw the appointment of Cowan as “the affirmation of the American dream.”
Cowan, 43, was first hired by Patrick as his legal counsel in 2009 and was then promoted to chief of staff in 2010. Last November, Cowan stepped down from the $144,000 a year job.
Cowan is a North Carolina native and Duke University graduate who came to Boston to attend Northeastern University Law School in the early 1990s—and never left the region. One of the city’s leading African-American lawyers, Cowan is a former partner in the politically connected law firm of Mintz Levin.
Cowan’s selection was quickly praised by Martin W. Healy, chief legal counsel for the Massachusetts Bar Association.
“Cowan has the wisdom and practicality to be a great steward for the state,’’ Healy said in a statement. “He enjoys a great working relationship with federal and state office holders. The historic appointment of an African-American US senator could not have been handled better by the governor.’’
Patrick and Cowan built up a strong friendship over the years, in part, because both men have risen from difficult childhoods to prominence in Boston and in the state. Patrick also served as a mentor to Cowan when both were practicing lawyers.
Cowan has also mentored many black professionals and has served as a talent scout frequently called upon to help diversify the city’s institutions. He helped Governor Mitt Romney, who faced criticism for the lack of diversity in his judicial picks, identifying lawyers of color who would make good judges. He recruited black lawyers for the law firm Mintz Levin and for Middlesex District Attorney Gerard T. Leone Jr.
Cowan is a native of Yadkinville, N.C., a town of 2,200 about 25 miles west of Winston-Salem, where he grew up on a street full of family. Cowan’s father died when he was 16 years old, leaving his mother to raise him and his two sisters on little more than a minimum wage.
He was the first from his high school, Forbush High School, to attend Duke, one of the nation’s premier colleges.
In choosing Cowan, Patrick rejected former US representative Barney Frank’s request to be given the job.
“I know Mr. Cowan is committed to working hard and in socially-fair and economically-efficient manner toward resolving pending budget issues,” Frank said in a statement.
A primary election for the seat is set for April 30 and US Representative Edward Markey is so far the only high-profile Democrat to formally enter the race. However, US Representative Stephen F. Lynch, the former president of an ironworkers union from South Boston, is expected to announce by Thursday whether he will run for the Senate, say his political associates.
Former US Senator Scott Brown, who lost to US Senator Elizabeth Warren last fall, is considering whether to enter the race for the Republicans.
“I am very pleased to welcome Mo Cowan to the Senate,” Warren said in a statement. “As former chief of staff to Governor Patrick, Mo brings a deep knowledge of the issues facing the people of our Commonwealth to the Senate. He will be a committed, hardworking interim Senator, and I look forward to working closely with him to protect the interests of Massachusetts families.”
Martin Finucane of the Globe staff contributed to this report. Frank Phillips can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org