Bypassing repeated entreaties from former Rep. Barney Frank, Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick (D) has selected his former chief of staff, Mo Cowan to be Democratic Sen. John Kerry’s interim replacement in the upper chamber. The Senate confirmed Kerry to be the nation’s next secretary of state on Tuesday.
Cowan, the Boston Globe notes, will become the first African American to represent Massachusetts in the Senate since Republican Edward Brooke held the seat from 1966 to 1978. He is expected serve until a summer special election determines who will fill the remainder of Kerry’s term.
So, just who is the Bay State’s next senator?
He grew up in a largely segregated tobacco town in rural North Carolina, the son of a machinist and a seamstress. As a boy, he watched the Ku Klux Klan burn a cross in town, march on his high school, and hand out literature on Main Street.
After graduating from Duke University in North Carolina, Cowan earned a law degree from Northeastern University in Massachusetts. He remained in Boston after law school. There, he emerged as a popular mentor for young black professionals and was often tapped to help diversify the city’s institutions (he once helped Mitt Romney identify lawyers of color who would make good judges), according to the Globe.
Cowan and Patrick met in the 1990s. In the 2010 Globe profile, Cowan explained an early interaction between the two:
“I essentially cold-called him and said: ‘Hey, you really don’t know me. I’m a young know-nothing lawyer, but you seem to have a handle on this thing. Would you mind sparing a few minutes whenever you can to give me a bit of advice?’ ’’ Cowan recalled in an interview. “And he said: ‘Sure. What are you doing right now?’ ’’
In Patrick’s office, Cowan became chief of staff in January 2011. Before that, he served as the governor’s chief legal counsel. Before joining the Patrick administration, Cowan was a partner at Mintz Levin in Boston, where he practiced civil litigation for 12 years. He also formerly served as board chairman at Roxbury Prep, a public charter school.
Cowan announced his departure as chief of staff last November. He returned to the private sector after leaving the Patrick administration, in which he had served since 2009.
Cowan and Patrick have cultivated a close relationship, and his appointment keeps up a trend of governors appointing close allies to fill Senate vacancies. Frank publicly lobbied for the appointment, but in the end, Patrick opted to go with someone he knows especially well.
“The people of the Commonwealth have benefited from his wisdom and good judgment during his time in our office, and will again in the Senate,” Patrick said of Cowan in a statement Wednesday.
Cowan, along with his wife and two sons, lives in Stoughton, Mass., according to Patrick’s office.