BOSTON — As William “Mo” Cowan prepares to step out from behind Gov. Deval Patrick to become the interim U.S. senator from Massachusetts, the North Carolina native yesterday said there will be no “daylight” between him and the governor on key federal issues impacting the state.
“I know the people of Massachusetts care about jobs, education; affordable, high-quality health care, and I will work with those interests in mind every day just as you do every day in your administration,” Cowan said during an introductory press conference just outside Patrick’s office.
With looming federal budget cuts that could be triggered in March without a broader deal to reduce the deficit from Congress, Cowan said a blend of spending reductions and new revenue are the preferred solution to limit the impact of those cuts, including reductions in defense spending that would hit the state economy particularly hard.
“The best strategy here and the best-case scenario is a balanced approach to this,” Cowan said.
Patrick tapped Cowan, his former chief of staff and legal counsel, to fill the Senate seat being vacated by U.S. Sen. John Kerry, who was confirmed on Tuesday to succeed Hillary Clinton as secretary of state. Cowan will hold the post until a special election scheduled by the governor for June 25.
The selection comes at the expense of someone with more legislative experience in former Rep. Barney Frank, who had sought the post. In picking Cowan, Patrick ensured the Senate seat would be kept warm by a “friend” and close adviser who shares his philosophy on government and can advocate for his administration’s priorities in Congress.
Thrust into the spotlight after years of serving as a behind-the-scenes negotiator and confidant to Patrick, Cowan said he has no designs on a future political career, and will return to the private sector when his stint in the Senate ends. “This is going to be a very short political career,” Cowan said, adding that he is “not a candidate now or any time in the future.”
Before joining the administration in 2009, Cowan was a partner at the Boston law firm Mintz Levin.
Senate President Therese Murray might be disappointed to hear Cowan has no future political ambitions: “I wish Mo the best of luck and hope that in the future he will consider running for an elected office,” she said in a statement.
Accompanied by his wife, Stacy, and his two sons — Miles, 8, and Grant, 4 — Cowan said he was “honored and humbled” to be chosen to serve, if only for a short time, and represent the people of Massachusetts. The Cowan family lives in Stoughton.
Born in a small, rural town in North Carolina, Cowan moved to Massachusetts 22 years ago to attend law school at Northeastern University. He earned his undergraduate degree at Duke University in Durham, N.C.
Calling Cowan a “trusted advisor, professional colleague and friend for a very long time,” Patrick lauded Cowan’s professional qualities and demeanor. The governor also reflected when asked what his choice meant for advancing the cause of diversity in public office — Cowan will become the second African-American senator from Massachusetts following Sen. Edward Brooke, who served from 1967 to 1979.
“The commonwealth and the country are changing,” Patrick said. “The breadth of diversity of background and ethnicity and race is deeper and broader than ever and I have known for a long time, and believed for a long time, that there is talent in every community in the commonwealth and to the extent that we can reflect that and encourage little boys and girls of color or who are poor or who grew up in marginalized circumstance to imagine what it might be like to serve the public in these ways, then I think that’s a great thing,”
Cowan paid special tribute to his mother, who he said was recuperating in North Carolina from her second knee surgery. Calling her a child of the segregated South, Cowan said his mother raised him and his sisters as a single parent after his father passed away when he was a teenager and never had the opportunity to go to college herself.
“My mother told me days like today were possible. If you work hard and treat people with respect, there’s very little you can’t achieve in this great nation,” Cowan said.
Both Patrick and Lt. Gov. Timothy Murray also took care to note Cowan’s easy-going style and persona — he is known around the Statehouse for sporting a bow tie, although he sported a silver and blue neck tie yesterday. Patrick said the advisers who helped him through the selection process urged Cowan not to wear his signature bow tie: “It’s the only one of their judgments with which I disagree, but it wasn’t worth the fight,” Patrick said.
Murray called Cowan “smart, strategic, tough.” “Lastly, he’s cool. Tom Brady, George Clooney, James Bond and the president have nothing on Mo,” Murray said
Asked whether he saw a bit of himself in Cowan, Patrick said, “I’m not that cool. What I do see is an affirmation of the American dream.”
Cowan will become a senator tomorrow — the effective date of Kerry’s resignation — when Patrick and Secretary of State William Galvin sign the necessary paperwork. He will not be able to vote or speak on the Senate floor until he is sworn in, a ceremony likely to take place next Thursday, depending on the schedule of Vice President Joe Biden.
Cowan will join Sen. Elizabeth Warren in the Senate, forming a duo with limited collective experience of just one month on Capitol Hill, on par with the two new senators from Hawaii. But Patrick said he was not worried about the lack of clout for a state accustomed to having senators of the stature of Kerry and Edward Kennedy. “I do get that part of clout in Washington is seniority, but one of the reasons I think our delegation has consistently been so strong is because of the depth of the people we send and Mo Cowan is very much in that tradition,” Patrick said.
According to Patrick and his aides, the governor consulted with a small group of advisers as he vetted potential candidates for the interim post, notifying Cowan that he would be the pick on Tuesday. The advisers included his chief of staff Brendan Ryan, his campaign committee director Alex Goldstein, former deputy chief of staff and political advisor Sydney Asbury and former chief of staff Arthur Bernard.
Ryan said the group of advisers sat down in December to begin thinking about the selection process and potential candidates when Cowan’s name came up, and despite being “hesitant” and “humble” about it at first, he agreed to be considered and recused himself from the process.
Ryan also said there was no need to make an agreement that Cowan not run for the seat, because he has no interest in doing that.
“It was never an option for Mo,” Ryan said.
Cowan said he takes comfort in knowing that as he gets acclimated to Washington, he will be able to lean on the experienced members of the Massachusetts House delegation and Kerry’s staff that will remain on to help him through the transition.