Heard on the Hill

Remembering Democrats’ convention credentialing mastermind

Former House administrative assistant oversaw DNC credentials for two decades

Jackie Falk is surrounded by gifts of flowers at the 1996 Democratic National Convention in Chicago. (Courtesy the Falk family)

Jackie Falk might not be a household name, unless you were trying to get credentials for the Democratic National Convention for two decades.

Because of the limited capacity of the venues for national political conventions, there is fierce competition for limited floor passes and seats, even among party luminaries.

Falk was in the middle of it all. A longtime Democratic Party official, she died May 8 at age 74, following a stroke. 

In the early 1980s, she worked in the House as administrative assistant to Rep. Leo Zeferetti of New York after a stint in the Jimmy Carter White House, but it was the conventions where she made her name within the circles of official Washington.

“We lost a legend. The Democratic Party and Democratic National Conventions will never be the same. Jackie’s convention credentialing was a labor of love and truly a work of art,” former Virginia governor and DNC Chairman Terry McAuliffe said in a statement.

Falk first worked on the credentialing operation for the 1984 convention in San Francisco and would return to that role every four years through the 2004 convention at what is now known as TD Garden in Boston.

“She conducted her credential operation like Mozart conducted his symphonies. She never ceased to amaze,” McAuliffe said. “I and so many others will forever be in her debt and will miss her deeply.”

Maryland Democratic Sen. Benjamin L. Cardin remembered Falk in a statement for the Congressional Record ahead of a funeral service last week.

“From 1984 on, she was responsible for credentials — who gets the precious access passes and where they could go — either as credentials director or as deputy convention manager,” Cardin said. “This made her one of the most sought-after and powerful women in Democratic politics.”

Her work with notable political figures went beyond managing the circuses that are the national conventions.

“In the 1990s, between conventions and DNC work, Jackie started an interior decorating business,” Cardin said. “Clients came from among her political contacts, including Mary Matalin and James Carville.”

Former New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson, who served in the House for 14 years, called her “a wonderful woman and a superb political operative” and said, “I will miss her dearly.”

Political figures always wanted to try to get on Falk’s good side ahead of the conventions, and it was through one of those gestures that she made one of her greatest friends: Yolanda H. Caraway, a frequent leader of the Democratic Party’s diversity initiatives who was the chief of staff for Rev. Jesse Jackson’s 1988 campaign.

Caraway also worked as deputy assistant political director for the 1984 presidential campaign of Walter F. Mondale, which she said in a statement is how she first came to cross paths with Falk.

“We first met in San Francisco at the 1984 convention, when I was told to take her flowers on the first day,” Caraway said. “I went to pick up the credentials for our team. I showed up with a big bouquet — and we became friends for life. Jackie was of the sweetest, kindest and funniest people I’ve ever known and I’m really going to miss her, especially her wonderful laugh. Rest well, my sister.”

Originally from Trenton, New Jersey, Falk most recently lived in Alexandria, Virginia. 

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