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News and Features: Online exclusives

Mr. Cowan goes to Washington

Patrick goes with his own guy

BY: Paul McMorrow


Three years ago, Gov. Deval Patrick filled a US Senate vacancy by deferring to the empty seat’s longtime occupant: He tapped Paul Kirk, a longtime Kennedy family friend, to cast votes in Ted Kennedy’s stead. This time around, Patrick made no such concession to outgoing Sen. John Kerry, or to any of the other Massachusetts powerbrokers maneuvering around Kerry’s open Senate seat. Patrick didn’t use Kerry’s ascension to Secretary of State to bestow a favor on somebody else. Instead, he tapped one of his own, his longtime friend and former chief of staff Mo Cowan.

Senate vacancies in Massachusetts are more ceremonial than aspirational. Cowan’s appointment, like Kirk’s, is temporary. Voters will fill Kerry’s Senate seat in a special election slated for June 25. Current US Reps. Ed Markey and Steve Lynch are chasing the seat, and former Sen. Scott Brown is inching closer to the contest. As he did with Kirk, Patrick tapped Cowan to act as a nonpolitical (though solidly liberal) temporary caretaker for the seat. “This is going to be a very short political career,” Cowan said Wednesday. “I am not running for office today, or at anytime in the future.”

The interim Senate appointment attracted interest far exceeding the five-month tenure attached to it. Former Rep. Barney Frank openly lobbied for the post. Patrick passed over Frank, as well as Vicki Kennedy and anyone connected to Kerry, in favor of his own guy. Cowan, a former partner at Mintz Levin, had recently stepped down as Patrick’s chief of staff, and was preparing to reenter the private sector. Before he does, though, he’s going to put Patrick’s own stamp on Kerry’s old Senate seat.

At a State House press conference Wednesday, Patrick described Cowan as a “trusted advisor, professional colleague, and friend for a very long time.” He also described him as a “highly respected public citizen” with an “intimate understanding of the issues we face.” Cowan himself ticked off jobs, education, and affordable health care as issues he was looking to tackle. He cast his interim appointment as a continuation of Kerry’s term, noting that he would be retaining Kerry’s staff, and that Kerry’s work in Washington had been “closely aligned with the work Governor Patrick has been focused on since day one.”

For all the nods Cowan threw Kerry’s way, though, the new interim senator is unquestionably from the governor’s camp, not the new secretary of state’s. Cowan has been inside Patrick’s inner circle during his entire State House stint, first serving as the governor’s general counsel, and then as his chief of staff. He stayed on Beacon Hill as a senior advisor after passing the chief of staff position off to Brendan Ryan in November. Asked Wednesday how he would approach national politics differently than the governor, Cowan replied, “I don’t think we’ll differ that much, if at all… [There’s] no daylight at all, because there’s no need.”

As Patrick heads into his final two years in the Corner Office, he’s been flexing his own political muscles more, rather than tending to political favors for others. In the past month, he has moved to shift his embattled former public safety chief into a state judgeship, and tapped Steve Tomkins, a sheriff’s department insider with no previous law enforcement experience, to replace Andrea Cabral as Suffolk County sheriff. On the Tomkins pick, Patrick looked inside Cabral’s organization for her successor but he also bypassed the entirety of Boston’s political power structure in filling the plum position. His interim Senate pick does the same thing. It discards the very notion that the seat should go to someone who could keep Barney Frank or John Kerry or the Kennedy clan happy, and instead puts the concerns of the governor’s own political organization first.

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