Cowan will be Massachusetts’ second African-American senator. Edward Brooke, a Republican, served two terms from 1967 to 1979.
Cowan grew up in North Carolina and graduated from Duke University and from Northeastern University’s law school. He was a partner in the prominent Boston law firm of Mintz Levin before going to work for Patrick, the state’s first black governor.
Cowan noted Wednesday that his mother, who is recuperating in North Carolina after knee-replacement surgery, was a child of the segregated South who raised him and his sisters alone after his father died when Cowan was a teen.
White House spokesman Jay Carney said he believes President Barack Obama will be encouraged by Cowan’s appointment, which coincides with a record number of female senators this year, “because he believes that diversity adds to the quality of debate.”
In the days leading up to the selection, Patrick said he would consider diversity in his choice of interim senator. He also insisted the interim appointment be someone with no interest in holding the job permanently. And Cowan said Wednesday he had no intention of running for any elected office in the future.
“This is going to be a very short political career,” he joked.
Former Democratic U.S. Rep. Barney Frank, who recently retired after more than three decades in the House, had been the only person to publicly express interest in the interim post and Patrick had acknowledged that Frank was among those he had considered.
Cowan’s appointment marked the second time that Patrick has selected an interim U.S. senator. In 2009, following the death of Sen. Edward Kennedy, Patrick named Paul Kirk, a Democratic party operative and Kennedy family friend, to serve until a January 2010 special election, which Brown won.
Under Massachusetts law prior to 2004, governors appointed a senator to serve until the next regularly scheduled state election. The Democratic-controlled Legislature changed the law after Kerry became the 2004 Democratic presidential nominee to block then-Gov. Mitt Romney from appointing a Republican in case Kerry won the election.
Kerry’s resignation from the Senate takes effect Friday, making Warren the state’s senior senator despite having been in the Senate for only a few short weeks herself.
Associated Press writers Steve Peoples and Steve LeBlanc in Boston and Nedra Pickler in Washington contributed to this report.