For the first time in history, there are two African-Americans in the U.S. Senate at the same time. Today, William “Mo” Cowan was sworn in as the interim Massachusetts senator, replacing John Kerry, who left to become President Obama’s secretary of state.
Cowan was chosen by Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick, who ignored all the lobbying in his state for the temporary seat. Even retired Rep. Barney Frank argued that he was the best choice for the short-term position, since he already had clout.
Instead, Patrick chose his close confidant and protégé. Cowan, 43, joined Patrick’s staff in 2009 as legal counsel and then served as his chief of staff.
Patrick said at a news conference that he chose a man who “has been a valued ally to me and our work on behalf of the people of the commonwealth.” He added, “In every step, he has brought preparation, perspective, wisdom, sound judgment, and clarity of purpose.”
Cowan was escorted by Kerry, a 28-year veteran of the Senate, and the other new Massachusetts senator, Elizabeth Warren, to take the oath of office from Vice President Joe Biden. With Warren and Cowan, Massachusetts will now have the least experienced Senate delegation in the country.
Cowan put his left hand on his grandmother’s Bible and took the oath as his wife Stacy, their sons, 8-year-old Miles and 4-year-old Grant, and his mother Cynthia, looked on from the Senate gallery.
“Days like today are like what my mother spoke of as a kid,” Cowen said afterward, joking, “It’s like starting at a new school in the middle of a semester.”
As soon as he was sworn in, the first senator to greet him with a handshake was the other African-American senator, South Carolina Republican Tim Scott. Scott began his term last month as the replacement for Sen. Jim DeMint after being chosen by South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley.
Cowan is the eighth African-American senator in U.S. history and the second from Massachusetts, following Republican Sen. Edward Brooke, who served from 1967 to 1979.
After his swearing-in, Cowan repeated that he will not run in the June 25 special election for Kerry’s seat.
“I’m not here to make a mark,” he said in the lobby of the Hart Senate Office Building. “I’m just here to do the work that’s required.”
Cowan and his sisters grew up poor in North Carolina, raised by his mother after his father died. He graduated from Duke University and went to Northeastern Law School in Boston. Cowan had recently returned to private practice after serving as Patrick’s chief of staff.
There was an amusing moment during his swearing-in involving Patrick, who sat down at the Senate desk that Cowan will be occupying. Kerry showed the desk —which had been used by John F. Kennedy and Ted Kennedy — and its contents to Cowan. But the Senate’s sergeant-at-arms approached Patrick and told him only senators were permitted to sit at a desk on the chamber floor.
So Patrick got up and moved.