William “Mo” Cowan of Massachusetts became the U.S. Senate’s newest member last week, bringing the total number of African Americans in the 100-member body to two.
Vice President Joe Biden administered the oath to Cowan, a Democrat and former chief of staff to Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick. Cowan was appointed by Patrick after the seat opened by John Kerry’s confirmation as Secretary of State. A special election will be held June 25 to fill the seat.
“This might be the shortest political career one has, but I look forward to it,” Cowan told the gathering. “It’s definitely a thrill to be part of the U.S. Senate.”
Cowan has made it clear that he will not run in the special election.
Cowan is the state’s second African American senator. Republican Edward Brooke served from 1967 to 1979.
With Cowan and Sen. Tim Scott, R-S.C., there are now two African American senators serving together for the first time. Scott, who was also a gubernatorial appointee to his seat, greeted Cowan on the Senate floor shortly after he was sworn in.
The primary is scheduled for April 30. Reps. Edward Markey and Stephen Lynch have declared their candidacies. On the Republican side, Cohasset businessman Gabriel Gomez, a former Navy SEAL and newcomer to state politics, launched his campaign this week. Norfolk state Rep. Daniel Winslow became the first Republican to announce his candidacy two weeks ago.
The first major hurdle facing both candidates is collecting the 10,000 voter signatures needed to get their names on the ballot. The deadline for submitting the signatures is Feb. 27.
“It’s for the people to decide, ultimately, who serves them long-term in the Senate,” said Cowan.
Cowan grew up in North Carolina and graduated from Duke University and Northeastern University’s law school. He was a partner in the prominent Boston law firm of Mintz Levin before going to work for Patrick.
Cowan has said in published reports that his mother, Cynthia Cowan, who attended the swearing-in ceremonies, was a child of the segregated South who raised him and his sisters alone while working as a seamstress after his father died while he was a teen.
“Days like today are what my mother spoke of when I was a kid, that if you worked hard and did the right things and you treated people well, anything could happen,” Cowan said.
Cowan joins Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren, a fellow Democrat who ousted Republican Scottt Brown from the Senate in last fall’s election.
Asked if he would be filing any legislation, Cowan told reporters that it was just his first day on the job.
“I just discovered the ‘Senate Only’ elevator, so give me time,” he joked.