Beto Yarce is running against Seattles most famous socialist (if Sawant ends up running).
Beto Yarce is running against Seattle's most famous socialist (if Sawant ends up running). Lester Black

Entrepreneur and non-profit director Beto Yarce outlined his campaign platform for City Council Thursday morning, pledging to bring back a new head tax, build more affordable housing, and better engage the city’s business community. Yarce is running in District 3 and formally announced his campaign at El Cuento Preschool on Capitol Hill.

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Yarce, who immigrated from Mexico in 2003 and is the executive director of a small business incubator, pledged to be a “voice of reason” on the City Council and described Kshama Sawant, who currently represents District 3, as an ineffective and divisive leader.

“I know how to break through divisive rhetoric and effect real change,” Yarce said. “I am running for City Council because I think economic opportunity can and must be tied to social justice, and those two can work together to build a stronger Seattle.”

District 3, which includes Capitol Hill and the Central District and some surrounding neighborhoods, is one of the seven City Council seats up for election in 2019. Sawant, a socialist who frequently opposes the majority of the council, has not announced if she is running for reelection. Her office did not respond to my request for comment today.

Yarce said he is currently living in Mill Creek but he said he is planning on moving back to Capitol Hill, where he said he has spent most of his time in Seattle.

“I am proud to have called… Capitol Hill my home for over 12 years. I remember those days when I used to work on Broadway, holding the hand of my boyfriend,” Yarce said.

The campaign for District 3 will likely be one of the more divisive races in next year’s elections. Sawant has strong support from the far left and has received national attention for her socialist affiliiation. But Seattle's most famous socialist is also frequently attacked by conservatives in Seattle's suburbs and often criticized by the moderates in the actual city, including powerful conservative business groups like the Chamber of Commerce.

The campaign platform Yarce outlined on Thursday was a mix of pro-business talking points and positions that will appeal to Seattle’s progressives. He sometimes seemed in line with the conservative Chamber of Commerce, like when he called the current council out of touch with businesses. “If you look at everybody’s background [on the City Council], nobody has a business background… It’s not that they don’t want to support small business it’s that they don’t know how.” But he also espoused ideas that seem more in line with the Democratic Socialists Of America, like when he said he opposes sweeping homeless encampments. “We need to help our brothers and sisters who are living on the streets… I will not support sweeping the encampments, I support figuring out a way to move them out of the streets with empathy and dignity.”

Yarce called the city’s head tax, which would have taxed large employers like Amazon but was repealed earlier this year shortly after being passed by the council, “a good idea” with “bad implementation.” He said he would support passing a new head tax to pay for affordable housing and is currently developing a specific head tax plan for his platform.

Yarce said he did not see Amazon as “evil” but he did say that the massive tech company needs to contribute more to the city.

“We need to have social responsibility from big corporations. In this case Amazon, they can do better in our community. We just need to negotiate better. And that’s going to be my goal, to negotiate with them and make sure they bring more resources to the community. If after that, that conversation doesn’t happen we will have a conversation about taxes,” Yarce said.

Yarce said Sawant hasn’t advocated for District 3 enough and that she too frequently opposes the rest of the City Council.

“Councilmember Sawant has multiple times been in disagreement with the rest of the City Council members, we have seen it over and over again… We all see it all the time, that she is always opposed to what the other City Council members have approved,” Yarce said.

Buriens Mayor Jimmy Matta (right) endorsed Yarce on Thursday.
Burien's Mayor Jimmy Matta (right) endorsed Yarce on Thursday. Lester Black

Burien Mayor Jimmy Matta endorsed Yarce at the end of Thursday’s campaign event.

“I back Beto for the simple fact that he understands how it is to not only be a worker, to be an immigrant, to work hard, to make sure that you are bringing people up with you,” Matta said.

Yarce said he was open to using the city’s Democracy Voucher Program to finance his campaign. The program gives city residents $100 in vouchers that they can use to donate to participating campaigns. Candidates for City Council districts must agree to limit their fundraising to $150,000 if they participate in the program.

UPDATE: 4:00 p.m.

Yarce's campaign spokesperson reached out to me after we posted our story to say that Yarce moved back to Capitol Hill in October while he and his partner look for a new home on the hill.