Sitting at a small table at the Westside Bistro on a sunny morning, Steven Horsford is interrupted several times by people wanting to say hello. Some are eager to shake his hand. Others thank him.
The wait staff, who are Culinary Academy of Las Vegas students, are working hard to please their guest. Horsford, who’s running in Nevada’s 4th Congressional District, was the academy’s CEO for a decade and helped build the bistro where he now sips ice water.
Horsford, 45, gets this reaction when he visits the Las Vegas Strip, too. It gives him “chills and goosebumps” when workers who graduated from the program say thank you, he said.
“This is what shaped me,” Horsford said. “I see firsthand the needs that people have. When they walk in this door, most people are unemployed or underemployed. They’re trying to find a way to get the skills so they can get a better job to provide for themselves and their families.”
Horsford, a Democrat, represented the congressional district for one term, and he’s ready to go back. He’ll face Republican Cresent Hardy, who unseated Horsford in 2014 before losing the seat in 2016.
But Horsford’s path to Washington was not easy.
His mother immigrated to America from Trinidad and got addicted to drugs. His grandma suffered a stroke and lived in a nursing home for nearly three decades. His father was shot to death while working as a cook at a convenience store down the street from the culinary academy.
Horsford was a 19-year-old freshman at the University of Nevada, Reno.
“Coming to his funeral was the hardest part, because that’s when it hit me that my father would not be there to see me start my family,” Horsford said. “I decided I was not going to allow that incident to deter me from living out my purpose.”
Horsford’s determination to serve his community propelled him to the top role at the culinary academy and helped him launch a skills training program with Intel Corp.
As state Senate majority leader in 2008, Horsford learned the importance of working across the political aisle.
Nevada faced the worst budget crisis in its history, he said, and he worked with Republicans to pass an alternative budget over Gov. Jim Gibbons’ veto.
“People said it could not be done,” Horsford said. “But we did it. It shows what can be done when people come together to solve problems.”
He is optimistic about the future of the state, saying the tourist- and gaming-driven economy can be diversified in the renewable energy, health care and technology sectors, while improving its status as an entertainment and sports capital.
And while Horsford never planned a career in politics, at some point he decided, “Why not me?”
“Why not someone who’s had the struggle of losing a family member or seeing a family member recover from addiction?” he said. “Why not have a representative in Congress who knows what it’s like to struggle with paying your bills and not having the financial resources?
“Far too many times, I think people in Congress and Washington, D.C., are so far removed from the everyday struggles that people face,” he continued. “I realize that my experience actually can help shape policy that would improve the lives of other people.”