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Former RJ reporter Dave Palermo, 71, dies at home in Las Vegas

Updated July 29, 2019 - 5:41 pm

Dave Palermo, a longtime Las Vegas-based journalist whose past work included coverage of gaming and labor for the Review-Journal, died Friday at home. He was 71.

Palermo worked for 13 newspapers in 33 years, starting out at the Daily Herald in Arlington Heights, Illinois. His passion and talents for journalism and storytelling took him to Los Angeles in 1977.

Before he left L.A. in the 1980s, he had worked for the three largest papers in Southern California: the now-shuttered Los Angeles Herald Examiner, the Orange County Register and the Los Angeles Times. His final daily newspaper post was in Biloxi, Mississippi, at the Sun Herald.

“Newspaper journalism is a unique profession,” Palermo wrote to friends a decade ago. “With all its faults … journalism remains the only profession in which the product is truth. I am proud to have engaged in such an honorable endeavor. All I ever wanted was the opportunity to deliver an ounce of message, told well.”

On Monday, personal and professional friends admired his work, wisdom and warmth.

“From the start it was apparent that he was a tough, no-nonsense, hard-working journalist, someone to emulate,” said former RJ reporter John Gallant. Both began their work in Las Vegas in 1989.

Gallant and other former colleagues commented on Palermo’s ability to strike up conversations and friendships with everyone from casino executives to cabbies.

“In a 24-hour town like Vegas, his sources included the bartenders, blackjack dealers, waiters and others who were the city’s lifeblood,” Gallant said.

Palermo worked as a reporter for the RJ until 1996.

“He was a true newsman,” said Al Tobin, another longtime friend and former colleague at the RJ. “We all learned from him just by being around him.”

Born in Kankakee, Illinois, in 1947, Palermo thrived on the excitement and sophistication of nearby Chicago, where he would travel by train as a teenager to work at his dad’s architecture firm, running errands and operating a blueprint machine. There he decided he wanted to be a big-city newspaper reporter.

Over his career, he won more than 30 writing and reporting awards, including the coveted Investigative Reporters and Editors’ Award in 1982, when he and two other reporters for the Orange County Register disclosed questionable deaths and prisoner abuse at the county jail.

After finishing up his daily reporting career in Mississippi covering the growing gaming industry and American Indian gaming, Palermo shifted his focus to advocacy for the tribes. That work took him to Sacramento, California; Flagstaff, Arizona; and Washington, D.C. The Hopi Indian Nation and its people were sacred in his life.

Palermo turned himself into an expert in Indian gaming but also in Native American sovereignty, history, social problems and programs aimed at rebuilding tribal communities. He could cite legal cases and Indian gaming regulations like a lawyer. His expertise grew as he worked for tribes to represent Native American interests to federal and state lawmakers and regulators.

When he returned to Las Vegas in the early 2000s, he continued writing and researching American Indian gaming issues as a regular contributor, mostly in industry publications. He also wrote letters and speeches, and he moderated panels.

Palermo had a gruff exterior.

“He wore the title of curmudgeon with pride,” Gallant said, “but to those who knew him well, he was the consummate friend, a mentor to the young reporters and, to the children of his friends, an honorary uncle.”

Palermo died by suicide. He was preceded in death by his parents, Pete and Margery, and brothers, Michael and Kevin, all of Illinois. No services are planned. Donations in Palermo’s memory may be made to the Hopi Education Endowment Fund, P.O. Box 605, Kykotsmovi, Arizona, 86039.

Review-Journal staff writer Rio Lacanlale contributed to this report.

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