Catching up with Joe DiPasquale
A candidate with deep roots in Niagara County
Joe DiPasquale and volunteers meet and greet folks at the 2018 Niagara County Fair in Lockport.
Photos by Wendy Guild Swearingen
Spree interviewed Joseph DiPasquale in May 2002 as part of a series, “Cool People in Buffalo.” He had left Los Angeles where he’d had a decade of success making films and recently moved back to Buffalo.
We wanted to know, is Joe still cool?
The Lockport resident has since bought the rights to and written a screenplay adaptation of the Italian American novel, Christ in Concrete, by Pietro di Donato. He developed a feature film project with Emmy Award winners John Turturro and (the late) James Gandolfini and director John Sayles.
He also wrote, produced, and directed The Roof Shall Not Fall, the acclaimed PBS documentary about Buffalo’s Underground Railroad.
DiPasquale has taught at the University at Buffalo where he created the Film Studies program, and where he earned both a master’s degree in humanities and a PhD in American studies, as well as teaching at Buffalo State College and lecturing abroad at the American Overseas School of Rome.
DiPasquale runs a production company called Bright + Valleywood Pictures and travels back to LA half a dozen times a year when he “needs to shake hands.”
Oh, and he’s running for NYS Assembly District 144.
The last time you were in Spree was 2002, because you were identified as a cool person in Buffalo. What’s been going on the past sixteen years?
I taught at the Buffalo Public Schools at the Arts Academy for a couple years. I finished up my PhD. I went back to school to take a playwriting class. I wanted to write the screenplay for Christ in Concrete by myself. Kind of stretch those muscles again. It opened my eyes to Italian-American literature that had been lost for so long. I just dug into it; it was really not expected.
Flash forward to 2012. I produced a play called Bread and Onions at the Kavinoky with Don Angelo. We cast Dominic Chianese from The Sopranos. Dominic and I met the night before opening night and he said, “I love the script [for Christ in Concrete], Joe.” Joey Giambra had given him the script. Chianese said, “I’d love to give it to Jimmy.” I thought, Jimmy who? Jimmy your nephew? No. Jimmy Gandolfini. I said, “Oh, that Jimmy. Yes, please give it to that Jimmy.”
We were ready to start production in September of 2013. Gandolfini passed in June. My mother was diagnosed [with cancer] four months later. I packed a bag and moved back to my grandmother’s house in Lockport to care for her. She needed round-the-clock care. After she passed, my cousin said to me, “Fight or flight. What’s it going to be, are you going to stay or go back to California?” I said, “I can’t. My mother died of cancer at sixty-nine. What is going on?” My friend Val is dying of cancer at fifty-three. People have died of MS that I know.
I was asked to run for senate in 2014 and 2016. I declined because I was busy caring for my mom and dad. I was doing a lot in the community and teaching at three different colleges and at a high school. In January of this year, [Niagara County Democratic chair] Nick Forster asked if I wanted to run for assembly and I said, “Yeah, I do. Let’s do this.”
How’s it going so far?
Fantastic. Support has been from all over the place for a lot of reasons. First and foremost, I think it’s the environment, the issues that I’m talking about. I helped organize and start a group called Citizens Against Pollution of Niagara. We got the Eighteen-Mile Creek put on a superfund site. We got a lot of information out to people. We just need to keep people accountable and keep their feet to the fire with this concern. Losing my mom at a young age, and friends—it reinvented me.
With both the physical environment and the political environment, I think people are much more educated. It’s great. People want to be fairly represented and justly represented, and I think they’re connecting with what I’ve got to say.
My issues are not partisan. If you can’t support a clean environment and strong education and ethics reform, I don’t think you’re an American. It doesn’t matter what party you’re affiliated with.
My opponent was appointed in 2016. He ran unopposed. I think it’s time people woke up and put a blue in that seat. They haven’t run a Democrat in over a decade in this race. I don’t think you’re going to find someone with as much life experience and as much passion as I have. I’m doing this for us—for all of us.
If you’re elected, what’s your first order of business?
I’d like to put a moratorium on an increase of toxic landfills in Niagara County. Our own garbage is our own garbage, we need to deal with it, but no more from outside. We don’t want it. We’re done. We’re full.
What surprised you most about rediscovering Niagara County?
The people. The tragedy that we’ve gone through as a family—it’s been great to be around family and friends who can support us. If there’s any good to come out of it, it’s this. And the fact that I want to make a difference. I needed to come home to be inspired again.