By Scott Malone
BOSTON (Reuters) - Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick on Wednesday named his former chief of staff, William Cowan, to fill temporarily the U.S. Senate seat that John Kerry will vacate this week.
The Democratic appointee told reporters he had no plans to run in the June 25 special election to choose a permanent successor to Kerry.
"I'm going down in this temporary period to continue the good work that Senator Kerry and his team has been doing," said Cowan, 43, a former civil rights lawyer with the Boston firm Mintz, Levin. "Senator Kerry has worked in close partnership with Governor Patrick and so you can expect me to do the same."
Cowan will become the second African-American in the current Senate, a distinction that Patrick, who is Massachusetts' first black governor, said influenced his choice.
"The commonwealth and the country is changing," Patrick told reporters. "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 circumstances, to imagine what it might be like to serve the public in these ways, I think that's a great thing."
In choosing the married father of two boys, who goes by the nickname "Mo," Patrick passed over recently retired U.S. Representative Barney Frank, who had publicly said he wanted the job.
Cowan's appointment maintains the Democrats' 53 seats in the Senate. Republicans hold 45 and there are 2 independents.
Kerry was approved by the Senate on Tuesday to succeed Hillary Clinton as secretary of state. Democrat Elizabeth Warren, elected in 2012, now becomes Massachusetts' senior senator.
"I look forward to working closely with him to protect the interests of Massachusetts families," Warren said of Cowan.
With Kerry's departure from a seat he held since 1985, Massachusetts loses much of its seniority in the Senate. Kerry served for almost a quarter century before the death of Edward M. Kennedy in 2009 made him Massachusetts' senior senator. Kennedy had held his seat for 47 years.
Cowan, who joined the Patrick administration in 2009, left late last year to return to the private sector.
While he kept a low profile in the administration, one former lawmaker said Cowan stood out for a calm but persuasive demeanor.
"We had people in our office yelling, screaming, demanding what would be in a bill or out of a bill ... Mo argued on the merits and was not confrontational," said Steven Baddour, a Democrat who served in the state senate from 2002 through 2012.
The state now faces a five-month Senate campaign in which so far only one high-profile Democrat, Representative Edward Markey, has announced his candidacy.
However, fellow Democratic Representative Stephen Lynch said early this month he is "giving serious consideration" to running for the seat. If Lynch enters the race, he would face Markey and any other rivals in an April 30 primary.
On the Republican side, all eyes are on former Senator Scott Brown, who has maintained a low profile since losing his re-election bid to Warren.
Brown stunned the state's liberal establishment in 2010 when he won a special election to fill Kennedy's former seat, becoming Massachusetts's first Republican senator in three decades.
After Markey declared his interest in the office late last year, he quickly banked a number of endorsements from prominent Democrats including Kerry, Victoria Kennedy, wife of the late Senator Edward Kennedy, and state Attorney General Martha Coakley, who was defeated by Brown in 2010.
Following Wednesday's announcement, Frank endorsed Markey as well.
Some observers described Markey's quick mustering of these endorsements as an effort to head off a primary challenge, though Patrick and state Democratic party officials said they wanted to see a competitive primary.
(Editing by Jackie Frank and Cynthia Osterman)
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