Elizabeth Warren supporters streamed into an auditorium at Roxbury Community College on Saturday afternoon for a ceremony re-creating her swearing-in as a senator in Washington last week.
Many in attendance said they were initially drawn to Warren by her frank speeches that assailed large banks and other powerful interests; Massachusetts’s newest senator didn’t disappoint them Saturday.
“We face a system that is rigged for those with power, wealth, and connections,” Warren said, echoing a popular line from her campaign. “I pledge today that I will never, never, stop fighting for you.”
Warren’s speech was tinged with emotion, at turns solemn — as when she invoked the memory of Edward M. Kennedy, who held the seat for nearly 47 years — and excited, as she thanked supporters and vowed to be a force for the state.
“Throughout this campaign . . . the people of Massachusetts have said they wanted a fighter — someone who will stand up to big guys, someone who won’t quit even when they’re up against the ropes, someone who will always be in their corner,” Warren said, her voice breaking.
“For half a century, Massachusetts was represented by Ted Kennedy, a man whose commitment to fighting for working people ran to the depths of his soul. . . . I can only hope to live up to his memory, integrity, and commitment to fighting for working people.”
Warren said she was particularly honored to serve as the state’s first female senator.
Warren officially joined the 113th Congress on Thursday at a ceremony in Washington, but decided to repeat the event locally for her Massachusetts supporters and constituents who couldn’t make the trip to the swearing-in.
Alicia Cornwell, 30 of Roslindale, said she voted for Warren and donated to the campaign, but had never seen her in person.
“I’ve been following her career; I thought it would be fun to come down,” Cornwell said, adding that she is pleased that Warren will join a record 19 other women in the Senate.
“Politics is rife with sexism, unfortunately,” she said. “Twenty is a great number, but it’s not enough.”
Cornwell said she admires Warren’s blunt style, and hopes she doesn’t back down from tough stances she took during the campaign. “She can still achieve what she wants while working with others. She doesn’t have to give up her personality to achieve those things.”
Activist and Warren campaigner Karen O’Donnell of Waltham said Warren’s swearing-in was “history.”
“I’m so excited that she’s in,” said O’Donnell, who also praised Warren’s direct approach. “She deserves to have the opportunity to stand as a maverick if she wants to . . . I hope people listen to her, because others could benefit from her education and background.”
Saturday’s ceremonial oath of office was administered by US Supreme Court Justice Elena Kagan, Warren’s former boss at Harvard Law School. Warren briefly stumbled over the oath, but recovered.
“Of course I was nervous,” she later told reporters. “I lost my focus a little.”
A Warren aide said Warren and Kagan have remained friends as both transitioned from academia to public office. Kagan’s nomination to the court was opposed by Warren’s predecessor, Republican Scott Brown, whom she defeated in November.
An all-star roster of Massachusetts Democrats attended the swearing-in, including Senator John Kerry, Governor Deval Patrick, Attorney General Martha Coakley, outgoing US Representative Barney Frank, Massachusetts Senate President Therese Murray, and US Representatives Edward Markey, Mike Capuano, and Stephen Lynch.
Patrick, appearing unusually animated, gave Warren a stirring send-off. “We are sending to Washington a person of great character, of great intellect, and of great compassion,” a beaming Patrick said. “It’s a very, very happy New Year.”
The event doubled as an opportunity for Patrick, Warren, and others to thank Kerry for his years in the Senate, as the longtime legislator is expected to be confirmed as the next secretary of state within days, succeeding Hillary Clinton. If Kerry vacates his Senate seat to accept the position, Warren would become the state’s senior senator, despite having just assumed the office.
That prompted Kerry to joke, “I was the junior senator for 26 years!”
A reflective Kerry quickly put aside humor, though, praising Warren’s “common-sense” populism, lauding the record number of women in the Senate, and saying he had observed a “spirit of renewal” among the new class of senators.
As with Warren, Kennedy’s legacy loomed large for Kerry.
“There isn’t a person in this room who wouldn’t give everything for me to still be the junior senator to Ted Kennedy,” Kerry said.
But while there was open acknowledgment of Kerry’s expected confirmation, the question of who Patrick would appoint to succeed him went unaddressed.
After initially denying he was interested in the interim post, Frank last week asked Patrick to appoint him as senator.
Patrick did not take questions from reporters after Saturday’s event about Frank’s request or who would succeed Kerry.
Frank became interested in the position after seeing details of the recent bill that partially averted the so-called “fiscal cliff,” but delayed some decisions about spending cuts. Frank said those cuts would be disastrous.
“This is going to be one of the most important three-month periods in US history,” Frank said, arguing that he has the experience needed to garner Republican support for a budget deal that averts cuts to programs like Social Security.
When Warren returns to Washington, she will carry with her the expectations of supporters, like those at Saturday’s event, who said they voted for a strong voice.
“I don’t want to see her lose her fire,” said West Roxbury resident John Ryan, 50. “During the financial crisis, her voice rose above all the rest. I hope she doesn’t get swallowed up by Washington.”