‘Beto for Seattle’ — from Capitol Hill’s little pink house to a run for City Hall

Beto Yarce announced his candidacy with supporters and partner Phil Smith at his side

When he first arrived on Capitol Hill in the early 2000s, Beto Yarce’s living arrangements were pretty typical for a young, gay person in their 20s. You may have seen his home — it was hard to miss the little pink house on John just above Broadway.

“I lived with three drag queens and two of my friends were women from Mexico and that’s how it really started, my journey here, you know,” Yarce tells CHS. “I’m seeing the different components of the CD and Capitol Hill and the complex diversity and, now, the needs of having this movement today.”

Yarce talked with CHS Thursday after coming to Capitol Hill for his big announcement — and the start of this movement he’s talking about. He is running for the District 3 seat on the Seattle City Council currently held by Socialist Alternative leader Kshama Sawant.

Back in his early days in Seattle, Yarce wasn’t thinking about public office. Working as a busser, and then a waiter, and, then, eventually the manager at Broadway’s dearly departed Mexican restaurant and lounge Galerias, Yarce began his life in America as an undocumented immigrant from Guadalajara.

“Today, you see me wearing a jacket — but it was not like this all the time,” he told CHS Thursday. “I lived here, I struggled. I worked as a busser. I worked 12 hour days.”


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Yarce announced his candidacy Thursday at 19th Ave E’s El Cuento Preschool, the first business he helped create through Ventures, the economic development nonprofit he has led since 2014. In his announcement and the press conference that followed, Yarce focused on themes of economic mobility and said he would “look past the political rhetoric” he says has been a signature of Sawant’s time in office.

“It’s time for a change,” Yarce said. He made no specific campaign promises during Thursday’s announcement but said he would support a new head tax in the city if it can be attached to a specific, reasonable plan for affordable housing and praised Mayor Jenny Durkan’s style of leadership and her frequent presence at neighborhood meetings and community discussions, an element he says was missing during the previous two administrations.

Yarce was one of the recipients of the mayor’s Pride awards this summer for his work as executive director of Ventures, a nonprofit that “empowers individuals with limited resources and unlimited potential improve their lives through small business ownership.” Last spring, Yarce was also part of more than 300 small business owners who came out against the early recommendations from the city’s “progressive revenue” task force. He is also a member of the mayor’s Small Business Advisory Council.

Like Durkan, Yarce also says he is against sweeping homeless encampments but in the same breath says homeless people should not be allowed to camp in the city.

“We need to move them out of the street with empathy and dignity and then we need to find places and shelters for them,” Yarce said. “I think the encampments are not a good place for them to be.”

For District 3 voters seeking a specific early contrast with the current holder of the D3 seat, Yarce told CHS he will commit to holding regular, open community meetings in the district.

“I want to be as much possible in the district,” Yarce said, saying there are “different neighborhoods in the city with different needs” and he can only truly understand the issues if hears them firsthand.

He’s uncertain on whether he would keep an office in the district but Yarce said Thursday that rallies and protests definitely aren’t part of his style. “I want to unify and bring people to the table. I want to have conversations”

“I think we know for you to create a good policy, you need to know all the issues on your district and then prioritize,” he said.

Less like Durkan and more like Sawant, Yarce talks in terms of movements.  “I am not afraid to stand on principle. I know we’re not afraid to speak up for what is right,” he tells CHS.

He also managed a couple Sawant-esque rally cries during his announcement. “To the hardworking people of District 3 who own small businesses or work for big businesses, to those with multiple jobs and struggling to make ends meet, I hear you,” Yarce said in front of the scrum of TV cameras and reporters crowded into the small preschool.

Like Sawant, Yarce said he also intends to build his campaign without corporate donations. He plans to utilize the city’s Democracy Vouchers program to help accomplish the goal.

As for Sawant, Yarce said he has never met the council member he might replace but that he has attended one of her rallies. “I haven’t met her — maybe because we’re moving in a different direction, but we’re serving similar communities,” he said.

He prefers to work on solutions, Yarce said, like his effort to raise the funds needed for the Families Belong Together effort at the Seatac Detention Center this summer. “That is the way that I organize,” Yarce said. “I don’t only show up when I want to talk. Or talk about my movement.”

Yarce with Burien Mayor Jimmy Matta

Yarce said he is also building on advice from Burien Mayor Jimmy Matta to create strategies to engage unions and workers — an element Sawant’s previous political opponents struggled with. Matta was on hand and spoke at Thursday’s Yarce campaign announcement. Yarce will also be bolstered by advice from City Council member Teresa Mosqueda after he helped craft her successful campaign’s economic development policy. Yarce has also received early endorsements from Seattle Port Commissioner Ryan Calkins, and State Rep. Phyllis Gutierrez Kenney.

Yarce’s Latinx support was in evidence at the Thursday announcement and press conference where an Univision microphone stood out among the electronics on the speaker’s podium. Yarce acknowledged the opportunity to represent a diverse District 3 but said he hopes not to lean on labels. “I’m not just advocating because I’m Latino,” he said. “I don’t want to put myself with just a label that I’m just a Latino, person of color, immigrant, and gay man.”

Of the more than 90,000 people who live in District 3, about 6% identify as Hispanic, according to this Seattle Times analysis from 2015.

Even with the support, Yarce is set to be part of what could be a tumultuous political year in Seattle as all seven of the city’s district seats are up for a vote next year. Already, two incumbents have begged out. Sawant has not announced plans for a 2019 campaign and her representatives have not responded to our inquiries about her plans.

Born in Mumbai, Sawant’s political career in Seattle was formed out of the Occupy movement when the economist was still teaching at Seattle Central and Seattle University. “This is one of the most wealthy states. We have some of the most profitable multinational corporations, the state is flush with billionaires, and the state legislature, which is Democratic controlled, is telling us that we have no money for basic health, for community colleges. But we refuse to accept that,” she told CHS in 2012 in an early preview of many, many speeches to come. “It’s high time people start questioning business as usual.”

Sawant’s leadership, the council member has said herself, has been focused on larger, sometimes global issues. As other district leaders have made habits of community meetings and “coffee talk,” Sawant has mostly avoided that kind of interaction in favor of rallies and protests. A September agenda-less community gathering at a Central District coffee shop was a rarity for Sawant. At the local level, this has left Sawant open to criticism about her office’s interest and availability in neighborhood issues and day to day problems around homelessness, drug use, and street safety. Some Capitol Hill community leaders have praised her “alternative” style and leadership on issues like the minimum wage. Meanwhile, Sawant scored a relatively easy victory in her 2015 campaign against challenger Pamela Banks. With a base in the district’s densest areas and the Central District, Sawant might be set up for a similar battle in the more affluent District 3 neighborhoods of North Capitol Hill, Madrona, Madison Park, and Montlake in 2019.

Yarce, to put possible words in Sawant’s mouth, is a capitalist. His list of Capitol Hill friends is made up of business owners — he lists Donna Moodie of Marjorie, Linda Di Lello Morton of Terra Plata, and Molly Moon Neitzel of Molly Moon’s as examples of the people he talked with during his six months of planning his run for the council.

Sawant supporters are also calling Yarce a carpetbagger for his move off the Hill four years ago to be closer to his partner’s job. But Yarce’s beginnings and his more than a decade he spent living on the Hill make any focus on his move with his partner Phil Smith to Mill Creek mostly a moot point. Yarce considers Capitol Hill his home neighborhood after living for years on 10th Ave E and the nonprofit where he serves as director is located at the very southern edge of the district just off Rainier.

The couple had always planned to move back, Yarce says. But with the city’s affordability issues, Beto quipped at the press conference during his announcement, he has so far found the process of searching for a District 3 home “expensive.”

Those running for district seats must reside in the district but are only required to have lived there for 120 days prior to their formal declaration of candidacy. Council members must also stay in the district throughout their term in office.

“How am I going to go back? We’re trying to figure that out,” Yarce told CHS about the couple’s search for place in the city. “We’re in a more privileged place now because when you have a partner, it’s easier — you have two incomes.”

“My first intention is to find a place to rent. And then win this election,” Yarce said. “And then we start looking for a place to buy. That was always part of the plan.”

Yarce’s life he has lived along the way creating his own business in Pike Place, throwing his passion behind a business that ultimately went bust on Broadway, and helping undocumented immigrants build businesses through his Ventures nonprofit, will also likely solidify his bonafides in the district.

“I am running for city council because I believe economic opportunity can and must be tied to social justice and the two can work together to build a stronger Seattle,” he said.

For now, in the early days of the campaign, Yarce is looking to make connections with those who will support his effort.

“I welcome people — before they judge that I’m polished — they come and meet me and ask me questions and hopefully we can get to a place where we can work together,” Yarce said.

You can learn more at betoforseattle.org.


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13 thoughts on “‘Beto for Seattle’ — from Capitol Hill’s little pink house to a run for City Hall

  1. I’m serious that he should run for city council in his home community of Mill Creek. It looks like positions 1, 5, 6, and 7 are up in 2019, and I’m sure the Mill Creek City Council would benefit from his perspective. We need new voices in suburban cities, too, and carpetbagging to Seattle seems like a lot of work.

  2. Since he was the manager at galerias I wonder what he knows or what his involvement was on the fire that was caused for insurance fraud while the owner was in Mexico. Does CHS remember that story? I know it ran on this site.

    • And do you intend to make the readers believe that this not-so-subtle character assassination attempt of yours will affect his ability to perform his duties and enforce his principles if he wins office?

  3. According to this article, Beto is “against sweeping homeless encampments” but also says “homeless people should not be allowed to camp in the city” and “we need to move them out of the streets…..” This is classic doublespeak. He needs to clarify his position on this issue.

    This article also says that Mayor Durkan is against sweeps…..this is not accurate. She favors them and they are continuing during her administration, at an increased rate, which I think is a good thing. But these need to be accompanied by an effective effort to get homeless people into addiction and mental health treatment, and to insist that they comply.

  4. Beto! Thank gawd we can get back to having every member of the council think of business interests first! Oh it’s been a hell with a single member of the council who doesn’t think of my bottom line before anything else for so many years! So elect my candidate, little people of Capital Hill, post haste!

    • The current City Council is hardly pro-business. It is left-leaning. The only moderate on the Council was Tim Burgess, and he retired.

      And, if you want to speak on Capitol Hill issues, at least learn to spell it correctly.

      • The current City Council is hardly pro-business. It is left-leaning.

        Your bias is showing, Bob. What does left or right leaning have anything to do with pro-business?

        I would further argue that a vast majority of successful businesses in this country are in “left-leaning” cities or states.

      • I agree with you Bob. 100%.

        In my opinion Beto does not offer any new opinions or ideas. Just recycled post 2008 Seattle feel good stuff.

  5. To Fairly Obvious-

    Saying that most businesses that are successful come from left leaning states is simply not true. It is true that left leaning states tend to have very large corporate partners that dominate the scene, but they also have weaker small business activity. It’s not one or the other based on politics. I know we love to break our arms patting ourselves on the back around here for being oh so progressive…but it doesn’t translate into economic power. A lot of other things go into it.

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