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Today, many in Massachusetts are asking themselves, who is Mo Cowan? That's because he'll soon be the state's newest senator. William "Mo" Cowan is former chief of staff to Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick, who chose him to take the seat being vacated by Senator John Kerry, the incoming secretary of state.
As NPR's Tovia Smith reports, Cowan will serve on an interim basis until a special election in June.
TOVIA SMITH, BYLINE: After spending years as legal counsel and top advisor to Governor Patrick, Mo Cowan was on his way out to the private sector, but he's now delaying that for six months for what he calls this privilege.
SENATOR WILLIAM 'MO' COWAN: Listen, Massachusetts has been a land of opportunity for me. There is no greater calling than to be able to give back to a state that's given so much to me.
SMITH: Raised in a small town in North Carolina, Cowan moved to Boston for law school and worked in a big downtown law firm before the statehouse. He'll now become the second African-American senator from Massachusetts, a point he says means a lot to him and his mother.
COWAN: She is a child of the segregated South. A single mother to my sisters and me, after my father died when I was a teenager. A woman who did not have the opportunity to attend college, but my mother told me days like today were possible.
SMITH: Cowan is described as extremely competent, cool under pressure, and just plain cool in his trademark bow-tie.
In choosing Cowan, Governor Patrick passed over some bigger names who would have wielded more immediate influence. Most notably perhaps, recently retired Congressman Barney Frank. But Patrick says he's not concerned that Massachusetts will go from two veteran senators just a few years ago, to two freshmen first-time office holders.
GOVERNOR DEVAL PATRICK: And I do get that part of clout is seniority. But I'm confident that this is the right and best choice for us.
SMITH: Cowan concedes he faces a learning curve in Washington, but he says he'll be helped along by Kerry's staff. He says don't expect much daylight between where Kerry stood and where he'll stand on issues like health care, education and gun control.
But Cowan says do expect his to be a very short career in elected politics. He's promised the governor he's not running to keep the seat.
Tovia Smith, NPR News, Boston.
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