(CNN) - Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick announced Thursday he has chosen longtime Kennedy friend Paul Kirk to fill the vacant seat left open by the late Sen. Ted Kennedy until a special election is held in January.
Patrick said Kirk will begin serving immediately, not in the 90 days that the measure passed by the Massachusetts House and Senate allowing for the appointment stipulates. The measure, which passed both chambers Wednesday, includes a provision allowing the interim senator to begin immediately if the governor declares it is an emergency.
"He's a distinguished lawyer, volunteer and citizen and he shares the sense of service that so distinguished Sen. Ted Kennedy," Patrick said. "Paul will not seek the open seat in the special election that's coming up in January but for the next few months he'll carry on the work and focus of Senator Kennedy, mindful of his mission and his values and his love of Massachusetts.
Kirk is a former chairman of the Democratic National Committee and currently heads the John F. Kennedy library in Boston.
"I was personally privileged to have had senator Kennedy's friendship, his trust, and his confidence," Kirk said. "He often said that representing the people of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts in the Senate of the United States was the highest honor that he could possibly imagine. And it certainly is nothing i imagined but it will be my highest honor as well."
Patrick said Kirk was chosen among 6 finalists for the post.
The appointment gives Democrats a crucial 60th vote in the Senate as the chamber weighs President Obama's health care proposal.
In a statement released Thursday, Obama called Kirk a "distinguished leader, whose long collaboration with Senator Kennedy makes him an excellent, interim choice to carry on his work until the voters make their choice in January."