Mayor Walter E. Washington, using symbolic and at times biblical language, tried yesterday to increase the political distance between himself and his recently indicated general assistant, Joseph P. Yeldell. The mayor assured some of his followers that Yeldell's indictment would not thwart his own still unannounced plans to seek reelection later this year.
Saying several times, "The storm is passing," Washington told 1,600 persons attending his annual prayer breakfast that despite the indictment of Yeldell, he still counts "integrity and loyalty" among his own strongest political assets.
"When you're talking about confidence in government, those are the two things you're looking for," the mayor said, "and I'm so happy I have them."
He brought the audience of city employes, clergymen, community group representatives and businessmen to their feet when he told them to be proud of the city. "If somebody asks you where you're from, say 'Washington, D.C.' so it can be heard," he said.
"You don't have to say who the mayor is 'cause everybody knows - it's the same name," he said. "I didn't have anything to do with it. It just happened. It's a good name. Father of our country. And it will be with us for some time."
Then Washington, who for more than a year has been dangling his possible candidacy in front of friendly audiences and eager supporters, dangled it again.
"I'm gonna conclude because I think you're getting anxious to get away, to get started to get out on the street and get some work done and I'm not going to hold you too long," he said.
"It certainly feels good in here. I wish I was a politician this morning. I kind of wish this wasn't a fellowship (of worship) because I could speak freely and I've got something in my heart that I want to tell you, but I can't do it now."
AT the same time, close confidants of the mayor have begun to say privately that barring any unexpectedly quick resolution of his legal problems, Yeldell, who began four months of annual leave last week, will probably not return to the mayor's administration.
"The mayor knows perfectly well that Joe's run out of string and when he's drawn whatever leave that's due him that that's the end," one mayoral confidant said. "Joe's just run out of string at the District government, and the end of the line will be when his annual leave is up."
Yeldell, a long-time associate and key political adviser to the mayor, was indicted a week ago along with multimillionaire businessman Dominic F. Antonelli Jr. on charges of bribery and conspiracy stemming from the awarding of a city lease in 1976.
The two were scheduled to be arraigned today in U.S. District Court. Meanwhile, Yeldell, who was at first placed on administrative leave by the mayor, is now on four months of earned annual leave - paid vacation - in order to prepare his legal defense.
The prayer breakfast was held at the Shoreham Americana Hotel and sponsored by the Executive Fellowship Group - an organization of top city employes. It was the 11th such affair since Washington was first appointed mayor-commissioner in 1967. The audience this year was considerably larger than some in the recent past, according to mayoral aides and some Washington supporters, who quickly boasted that the size of the crowd was an indication of resilient support for the mayor.
Sources at city hall said, however, that a special effort had been made this year to recruit persons for the $7-a-plate affair and these sources noted that there were numerous political overtones during the two hour session.
For example, Councilman Douglas E. Moore, one of the mayor's strongest supporters on the City Council, was the only council member sitting at the dais. Newspaper publisher Calvin W. Rolark wore a black and white button with a picture of the mayor on it reading, "Draft Re-Elect This Honest Mayor."
The closing prayer was given by the Rev. Andrew J. Allen, pastor of First Baptist Church of Deanwood, who at one point said, "We thank Thee for our mayor, not because we think he is the best person in the world, but because we do not want him succeeded by the worst person in the world."
While the mayor shied away from overly political pronouncement, he did repeat to this audience the same theme he has stated to others, namely that he has rebuilt the city from the ruins following the 1968 riots and led it successfully through crisis. In those years, he said, all racial and economic groups in the city have come together despite past differences. "The spirit of today is that we love them just the same," he said.
In what some key mayoral aides said was an obvious reference to his own feelings about Yeldell, the mayor at several points spoke of forgiveness and closed by reading from the Sermon on the Mount, where Christ instructed his followers to love their enemies.
"Bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you and persecute you - Great Lord, That's the Lord speaking. He must be speaking to me," the mayor said, breaking way from the text.
Several persons attending the breakfast said that Yeldell's indictment should not be taken as an indictment of the city government, even though it might reflect poorly on the mayor politically unless he takes a stand on it and forgets about this friendship stuff. His job is the welfare of the government and not the welfare of Joe," said Irven Washington, a 45-year-old assistant junior high school principal.
"I think it's a point of the man's sins catching up with him. If you do something wrong you expect to be caught," Irven Washington said. "There's been a series of things against Joe. Everytime Joe does something like that, it puts a black eye on the city."
Elberta Twyman, a dry cleaning store owner on the 14th Street corridor said the indictment of Yeldell "wasn't anything in the mayor's favor. It wasn't helpful."
"I'm sorry to see that kind of thing happen because Washington is in its embryonic stage of government and it doesn't need that," said Marcus Dasher, a housing rehabilitation director for the D.C. Department of Housing and Community Development. "But the whole city should not be indicted because of the alleged wrong-doing of one man."
Dasher said he had sympathy for the mayor, but added, "people are going to look at this as the commander being responsible for his troops."
"It's one of his top assistants," Dasher said. "When you place people in a place like that you can't be isolated. You have to take some responsibility. If Mr. Yeldell is found guilty, then the mayor ought to 'fess up and take some responsibility."
Virginia Keith was one of more than 50 people who came up to the podium after the breakfast and stood in line to either shake the mayor's hand or get his autograph.
"I think people have a lot of faith and belief in the mayor. I think he is a good mayor. We would be in for a great loss if we would lose him," said Keith, a consumer specialist at the Southwest Community House. "People in leadership role have to play by the rules," she said of Yeldell. "Just because you're in leadership, you won't be let off."
Bishop Smallwood Williams of the Bibleway Way Church said, "No man is to be considered guilty until he's had a fair trial."