A little chocolate in the swag

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April 13, 2008|By LAURA VOZZELLA

The mother-to-be wore a black evening gown to the afternoon tea, and the paparazzi snapped away. Those aren't the only things that set Jessica Alba's baby shower apart from yours and mine. There's also the matter of the swag.

The Fantastic Four star gave her shower guests gift bags filled with luxury treats, including Karl Lagerfeld sunglasses and - here's why the non-celeb-obsessed might care - something from Charm City. Everyone in the party of 50 received an assortment of 10 handmade truffles and Swiss chocolates from Glarus Chocolatier, which is headquartered in Timonium and also has a shop in Harbor East.

Hearing that, I thought: Ka-ching! Nice, big order for a small company. I asked Jennifer Hauser, who started the gourmet chocolate firm with her husband 3 1/2 years ago, how much money the star's order brought in.

That amount of chocolate retails for about $800, she said. And it cost about $200 to overnight all that to L.A. But the sum paid by the Invisible Woman was, well, invisible.

"We donated them," Hauser said. "We were happy to donate them."

Hauser, as it turns out, got out cheap.

Other companies actually paid thousands of dollars to give their products away to the shower guests, on the premise that some celebrity chic would rub off on the merchandise. The Santa Monica-based company that assembled the bags, Backstage Creations, waived the $3,000 fee for Glarus, Hauser said, because it was a last-minute deal and because someone with Backstage is a die-hard Glarus fan. (Her great-aunt in Maryland had sent her a box of it.)

Backstage Creations claims to have created swag marketing, mostly in connection with awards shows, such as the Billboard Latin Music Awards in Florida this week. Who knew the advertising niche had infiltrated innocent little baby showers? Hauser found the whole idea sort of "funny."

"You have to pay this much money to give these million-dollar stars gifts," she said. "Companies like ours, working hard to make it and do well - these stars have got it made, and yet we have to put it all out there."

Even so, Hauser might work with Backstage again, possibly to provide chocolates at the Country Music Association awards. That would cost her $2,000 to $100,000, depending on whether she wants a simple display or the opportunity to hand her chocolates directly to Kenny Chesney.

"This was so out of the blue and such a neat way to be thrust into a different consumer," Hauser said. "If something comes out of it" - say, a whole bunch of orders from 90210 - "that could be really big for us."

Definitive word, or maybe not

Circuit Court Clerk Frank Conaway, who claims that Sheila Dixon wasn't legally sworn in as mayor in December and has managed to hold up city bond issues on that premise, appears to have a high-powered attorney on his side: former City Solicitor Ralph Tyler.

Back in November 2006, as then-Mayor Martin O'Malley was preparing to leave office to become governor, Tyler sent a memo to Dixon outlining the process by which the City Council president would assume the job of mayor.

"The Clerk of the Circuit Court for Baltimore City, the Honorable Frank M. Conaway, must administer the oath of office," Tyler wrote.

Dixon had Conaway do just that on Jan. 18, 2007, the day after O'Malley became governor.

But less than a year later, on Dec. 4, 2007, Dixon took the oath for a second time, after her election to a full term. That time, Dixon had O'Malley swear her in instead of Conaway, who'd challenged her in the Democratic primary. The current solicitor, George Nilson, has said that was perfectly legal.

Does Tyler, now Maryland's insurance commissioner, still agree with his old memo?

"It says whatever it says," Tyler told me Friday.

But Tyler added that he hadn't actually researched the question of whether someone besides the clerk could administer the oath because there wasn't any question or controversy about it the first time. He noted that there were no legal citations beside that statement.

Tyler said he was just "laying out the cookbook of how this [transition of power] gets done," he said. "I was just saying, `Here's the procedure.'"

Family values in government

Finally, a city-state partnership we can count on.

Baltimore City Councilman Jim Kraft and Tammy Laun, a legislative aide to state Sen. George Della, made it official last week - by getting married in the park in front of City Hall.

The bride wore a simple summery dress. The Rev. Cathy Oatman of United Evangelical in Canton officiated. And about 15 family members and council staff were in attendance.

The Krafts are honeymooning in Cancun, but they'll be back to the business of city and state in about a week.

Connect the gots

Joycelyn Elders, who lost her job as Bill Clinton's surgeon general after remarks about teaching schoolchildren about, well, you know, comes to town later this month. She will deliver the keynote address at a 25th anniversary celebration for the Health Education Resource Organization Inc., a Baltimore nonprofit that provides services to people with AIDS and HIV. It happens April 25 at the Engineer's Club. ... Called for jury duty in Baltimore Circuit Court last week: Judge Robert Bell, chief judge of the Maryland Court of Appeals. He didn't get picked.

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