William "Mo" Cowan (screenshot courtesy of YouTube)

(The Root) — William "Mo" Cowan has been appointed by Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick to replace newly confirmed Secretary of State Sen. John Kerry in the U.S. Senate. Cowan will fill the role in an interim capacity until his successor is chosen in a special election in June.

The selection of Cowan, Patrick's former chief of staff, has surprised political observers. Many of them assumed that the governor would do as he did after the death of Sen. Ted Kennedy and select an elder statesman of some sort — perhaps former presidential candidate Michael Dukakis or retired Rep. Barney Frank. But according to Boston-based political consultant Michael Goldman, who has previously advised Patrick, Cowan makes sense.

"He was one of the governor's most respected advisers, and one thing this governor wants to do is make history and start to create the next generation of black leadership, and Mo Cowan is that," Goldman said during a brief phone interview with The Root. Calling Cowan a "terrific guy," Goldman added, "Gov. Patrick could have picked someone at the end of his career to fill this role, but instead he picked someone still near the beginning. Twenty-five years from now, Mo Cowan will still be making a difference in government and politics, and this governor will have played a role in that."

Cowan's appointment means that Massachusetts is now home to two of America's highest-profile African-American politicians. Thanks in part to his impressive speech at the 2012 Democratic National Convention, Patrick, the state's first black governor, is widely touted by many as a possible successor to President Obama in the White House someday.

Here are some key facts about America's newest black senator:

* Cowan is 43 years old.

* Cowan was born and raised in North Carolina.

* He attended Duke University as an undergraduate.

* He graduated from Northeastern University Law School.

* He is married with two sons.

* He is a former general counsel and chief of staff — and longtime friend — to Gov. Deval Patrick.


* He is credited with helping Gov. Mitt Romney recruit diverse legal talent for government legal and judicial posts.

* He becomes the second black senator to serve in Massachusetts. The first was Ed Brooke back in 1963.

* He joins Tim Scott (R-S.C.) to become the second African American in the current Senate.

* He becomes the sixth elected or appointed black U.S. senator of the modern era.

Editor's note: This posting has been updated to reflect the fact that Cowan is the second black senator to serve in Massachusetts, not the second elected.


Keli Goff is The Root’s special correspondent. Follow her on Twitter