AT THE END OF THE DAY, Joe Yeldell walked. His codefendant, Dominic Antonelli Jr., got into a chauffeured Mercedes and Antonelli's lawyers. Edward Bennet Williams, got into a chauffeur-driven Lincoln, but Joe Yeldell and his lawyer set off on foot. The sun was setting, a wind was coming from the north, and joe Yeldell, who once had a car and a driver himself, was walking once again.
It was his first day on the witness stand. It was Tuesday and the morning testimony had been dull. Expert witnesses had testified about the building Yeldell leased for the city in what the government charges is a corrupt deal. They talked about square feet and services provided by landlords and the fact that elevator shafts and stairwells are not counted in the rentable square footage. They "pierce" the floor an expert said.
Yeldell, the former directorof the city's Department of Human Resources, sat at the defendant's table along with Antonelli. Occasionally, the two of them chatted, sometimes joked but mostly they sat mute, listening, as the jury did to the dronings of the experts. Things would, of course, pick up later in the day. Things would get better.
All the time the place was packed. All the time lawyers dropped in to see the Great Williams, defender of Jimmy Hoffa and Joe McCarthy and John Connally and many others, and, of course, the press was there because this is a very important trial-don't ask me why. I used to know. Once it was sort of about Walter Washington, his style of government, his cronysism or his loyalty to his friends, depending on how you looked at it, the way he ran or did not run, the city-again depending on how you looked at it.
Once, for instance, Yeldell mentioned that it had taken the mayor 10 days to sign an order that was waiting for him on his desk. You wanted some to jump up and say that this was the crime-10 days to sign an order. But nothing like that happened and it doesn't matter now. No matter what the outcome of the trial, the verdict of the voters is in: Walter Washington and Joe Yeldell are out of a job.
Joe Yeldell is dressed in a checked suit, vest and tie and somehow it doesn't quite come together. Antonelli next to him is stylish. He is dressed in a gray suit, white shirt, tie with a touch of pink to it. Nice. He wears dark glasses, take notes with pencil, consults, occasionally, what looks like a bookkeepers chart, but drops everything when Yeldell takes the witness srand. Now he becomes fidgety. Now his finger is poking the bridge of his glasses, hitting them back even though they are not slipping-poke, poke, poke.
Joe Yeldell is on stand. Now, after all these months, Joe Yeldell is on the stand to tell what happened. Now he begins to talk of the $33,000 from Antonelli and how his Department of Human Resources got the authority to lease a building from the very same Antonelli, but when he talks, something strange happens. He does not talk with the savvy of Joe Yeldell, the politician nor with the bombast and indignation of Joe Yeldell, the consummate bureaucrat. He talks in jargon, in forms and programs- a GS talk that is the lingua franca of the District Building.
He talks of decentralization programs and the community, of plans being finalized and something about minority enterpreneurs. He mentions something called a 'ASO-138, which is a form, and IAQ funds, which is a type of bureaucratic money. He sounds himself like one of the expert witnesses, not a politician with a mandate but, instead, a bureaucrat with something even more valuable-the power to least buildings.
This, then, is the trial of the future. No white envelopes here, no bribing of members of the legislative, no late-night meetings in state capital watering holes. Now the man who can master the forms prevails and you must come to him.One thing does not change, though: a bureaucrat can lose his job and a politician can lose an election, but money remains money.
Late in the day, Joe Yeldell got down from the witness stand, waved off the press, and chatted in the hallways with his wife and some other women. Then he went outside with his lawyer. A car was waiting for Antonelli and a car was waitng for Williams and nothing was waiting for Joe Yeldell except the certainty that, innocent or guilty, there's one thing he's got to do.
He's still got to pay off that loan.