WASHINGTON — When she lived on Long Island, Karine Jean-Pierre held an array of jobs — working at the Estée Lauder plant in Melville, monitoring the nests of shorebirds at Jones Beach, and serving as a counselor to girls from disadvantaged communities.
Today, Jean-Pierre juggles an array of responsibilities as principal deputy White House press secretary.
Maju Varghese grew up in Elmont, a hometown he calls a "melting pot." His longtime friends from Elmont Memorial Junior-Senior High School were among the first to congratulate him when hearing about his new role as director of the White House Military Office.
Jonathan Black was born and raised in Islip, spending countless hours at Davis Park on Fire Island, where his parents ran a nearby grocery store. He was recently named a special assistant to President Joe Biden, serving as a liaison between the White House and the Senate on environmental issues.
As Biden continues to fill out his White House staff, at least three appointees have Long Island roots. For Jean-Pierre and Varghese, the roles mark a return to the White House after working for President Barack Obama.
Long before she was briefing reporters aboard Air Force One, Jean-Pierre was running miles across Long Island as an all-star cross country and track runner for Kellenberg Memorial High School in Uniondale.
Jean-Pierre, 46, was born in the Caribbean island of Martinique to Haitian parents. The family moved to New York, living in Queens Village, before purchasing a home in Hempstead on Garfield Place.
In her memoir "Moving Forward: A Story of Hope, Hard Work, and the Promise of America" Jean-Pierre described the perils of the neighborhood at the time, saying she "never felt safe."
She attended Franklin Elementary School — which has since been renamed Joseph A. McNeil Elementary School — before her parents transferred her to Our Lady of Loretto Catholic School.
Jean-Pierre went on to attend Kellenberg, and the New York Institute of Technology in Old Westbury, before graduating with her master's from Columbia University’s School of International and Public Affairs.
In her memoir, Jean-Pierre describes the range of jobs she held before deciding on graduate school. She once served as a volunteer firefighter in Hempstead, worked as a phone canvasser for the Citizens Campaign for the Environment, monitored the nests of piping plovers on Jones Beach to ensure they were protected as part of a CCE initiative, and served as a counselor for a project that encouraged girls to learn about the environment.
Before taking on a job as a senior adviser to Biden’s 2020 campaign, Jean-Pierre was a senior adviser to the progressive political action committee MoveOn.org and often appeared on MSNBC as a political analyst. She previously worked on both Obama presidential campaigns and served as regional political director for the White House Office of Political Affairs under Obama.
In her latest White House role, Jean-Pierre works alongside White House press secretary Jen Psaki, often delivering the Biden administration’s talking points in TV interviews or briefing reporters aboard Air Force One.
Varghese, the son of Indian immigrants, was born in Manhattan’s Washington Heights neighborhood, but his parents eventually moved with their son and daughter to Elmont, purchasing a two-story home on Fieldmere Street.
His mom was a nurse and his late father worked as a New York City cabdriver and later as a hospital security guard. Both instilled in their children the value of focusing on their studies, Varghese said.
Varghese, 43, attended Gotham Avenue Elementary and graduated from Elmont Memorial Junior-Senior High School in 1995, developing lifelong friendships.
"Growing up in Elmont was like literally growing up in a melting pot," Varghese said. "In Elmont I think we had this gift that we had each other. You would go to your friends' houses and meet their parents and eat their food, and you tear down a lot of walls and misconceptions that way. And so it was a really great place to grow up."
After high school, Varghese majored in economics and political science at the University of Massachusetts Amherst and went on to work for Al Gore’s 2000 presidential campaign, helping set up campaign events. On the campaign trail he met his wife Julie, who also worked for the Gore campaign, and the two eventually moved back to New York while Varghese attended Hofstra Law School.
After earning his law degree in 2005 and working for a private New York City law firm, Varghese was hired in November 2010 to work in the Obama White House as a part of the advance team that organizes the logistics of events ranging from international trips with foreign leaders to televised town hall events. He gradually rose through the ranks to be named assistant to the president for management and administration in July 2015, a role he held until Obama left office.
In that role, Varghese was in charge of the day-to-day operations of the White House complex, overseeing the White House’s internal budget, coordinating with the Secret Service when foreign heads of state visited the White House, and directing repairs and upgrades to the 229-year-old complex.
In fall 2019 he joined Biden’s presidential campaign as chief operating officer and after Biden’s victory was tapped to serve as executive director of the Presidential Inauguration Committee, helping to orchestrate a pandemic-era inauguration.
Earlier this month, he was named director of the White House Military Office, overseeing a department that provides military support to the White House for on-site events and travel, such as when the president travels aboard Air Force One or spends time at the presidential retreat, Camp David.
"My mom tells the story of coming to D.C. as a tourist. I was a baby and they couldn't even get a tour, so the farthest they got was the front gate. And so, I always tell her, ‘now we're in.’ "
For the past 20 years, Black, 43, has worked on Capitol Hill focusing on energy and environmental issues, first as an aide to the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee and most recently as senior policy adviser to former Sen. Tom Udall (D-N.M.).
A graduate of Bayport-Blue Point High School, Black said he was "drawn to public service from an early age on Long Island." He was a member of the school’s Key Club and interned for the late Assemb. Paul Harenberg, a Democrat who served in the State Legislature for 26 years and focused on issues involving the elderly.
Black recalls spending "a lot of time on Fire Island" at Davis Park, where his parents ran a local grocery store.
He left Long Island in 1995 to attend the University of Richmond in Virginia, where he majored in history and later earned his master’s degree in international affairs from George Washington University in D.C.
Black landed a job on the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee in June 2001 and was later hired by Udall as a senior policy adviser with an emphasis on environmental issues.
In his new role as a White House Senate legislative affairs liaison, Black said he "will work directly with Senate offices and committees" on a variety of issues, "including energy and environmental issues, where I am a lead point of contact."
Asked about his priorities for the role, Black said: "to help the country recover from the COVID pandemic and economic downturn by building back a stronger, cleaner and more robust economy that benefits everyone."
New Yorkers in the White House
The Biden White House has several cabinet members and top aides with New York roots. Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen was born and raised in Brooklyn, Secretary of State Antony Blinken was born in Yonkers, and Director of National Intelligence Avril Haines grew up on Manhattan’s Upper West Side.
The Trump White House also had its share of Long Islanders — Port Washington native Anthony Scaramucci served as White House communications director for 11 days. Bill Shine, who grew up in East Northport, also served as communications director before departing to advise Trump’s 2020 campaign. Trump’s Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao graduated from Syosset High School, and retired Navy Rear Adm. John Polowcyzk, who hails from Manhasset, served as the head of White House Coronavirus Task Force’s supply chain efforts.