Crackdown on party crashers for this year's correspondents’ gala

Party crashers will have a tough time getting into events before and after the White House Correspondents’ Association dinner.

It’s a Washington tradition for the uninvited to dress up and slip into the various cocktail receptions scattered throughout the Hilton Hotel before the dinner begins.

This year, however, organizers of the sold-out event are determined to keep the crowds at more manageable levels than last year’s gathering, which was jam-packed to epic proportions.

“We’re just trying to keep out people who aren’t invited because it’s gotten so crowded, that’s all,” said Bloomberg’s Ed Chen, the president of the White House Correspondents’ Association.

One major change is that the public will not be allowed near the red-carpet area just inside the Hilton’s revolving doors. Usually that spot has a roped-off space for onlookers to cheer and photograph celebrity arrivals.

The change will make it more difficult for people to crash the party while making it easier for people with invitations to arrive.

In order to get onto the terrace level, where the red-carpet arrivals take place, or the downstairs concourse level, where the pre-parties take place, attendees will need either a dinner ticket or a ticket to one of the pre-dinner cocktail receptions. Credentialed media covering the spectacle will also be allowed in.

The association will have extra staff on hand to make sure people have invitations, and to monitor crowd flow.

“The only people allowed on the red-carpet level are event attendees. The people staying in the hotel and the general public will not be allowed on that level. And everyone covering the red carpet will be credentialed and let in at a certain time by security,” said Julie Whiston, executive director of the association.

“We’re being much tighter so our guests will be more comfortable and we won’t have the crowding we had last year.”

Last year’s pre-dinner receptions were so crowded, guests (both invited and crashers) had to push their way through the hallways and around VIPs.

The crowds blocked the hallways so badly that several news organizations had to get their celebrity guests into the dinner by going through the kitchen.

“We had to go through the kitchen to get inside the dining room. We had a wand inside there with the Secret Service,” said CNN spokeswoman Edie Emery of last year’s festivities. “That’s something you don’t want to put your guests through.”

Part of the problem was that the outside pool area, where several pre-parties are usually held, was closed for renovation, forcing all the receptions to be held downstairs, rather than split between the terrace and concourse levels. It will be closed again this year as the Hilton continues to undergo construction.

Officials at the Hilton Hotel did not respond to a request for comment.

There will be several ways for people with tickets to get to the downstairs area for this year’s event. Traditionally, most people go down the escalators, which are so narrow that only one person can fit and there is usually a swarm of bodies waiting to get through.

That small area and the fact that there will be check-in lines has people concerned that even if they hold the proper invites, there will be a long wait to get to the festivities.

Party planners aren’t worried, though.

“We worked it all out,” Whiston said. “We’ve got lots of staff and lots of help.”

In addition to the escalators, there is a bank of elevators guests can take to get downstairs.

Another option would be to go into the ballroom where the dinner is held through the terrace level and exit the ballroom through the concourse level in order to get to the receptions. There is an additional staircase off the elevator bank that is usually blocked off by the rope lines of cheering crowds but should, theoretically, be open this year.

Chen’s advice to attendees: “Just be patient and be polite. And we’ll all get through this just fine.”

Demand for this year’s event was so high that organizers had to turn away some organizations that wanted additional tickets.

“Requests came in for 50 more tables than we had,” Chen said. “Both in the size of the response and the speed of the response for when we put out the notice saying now is the time to apply for tables, it was the fastest and the biggest ever.”

Chen, as president of the association, has the thankless task of helping to decide which organizations get which tables and how many tickets.

“I’m in a wheelchair now — broken legs, arm in a sling,” he joked. “You get kind of pretty beat up before this is over, and you hear all kinds of sob stories and anguished pleas. ... People saying their jobs are on the line, their careers are at stake. You just hear everything.”