Alpharetta Mayor David Belle Isle speaks during the Georgia Secretary of State debate at Lassiter High School in Marietta, Georgia, on Monday, April 9, 2018. (REANN HUBER/REANN.HUBER@AJC.COM)
Photo: Reann Huber
Photo: Reann Huber

Candidate for Georgia secretary of state retracts inaccurate claim

A Republican candidate for Georgia secretary of state, David Belle Isle, quietly corrected his campaign website this week to remove false claims that he was a descendant of a prominent Atlanta businessman who started taxicab companies in the early 20th century.

Belle Isle, a former mayor of Alpharetta, had refused to change his website until he was interviewed by The Atlanta Journal-Constitution on Monday about his ancestry.

Belle Isle faces state Rep. Brad Raffensperger in a July 24 Republican primary runoff election, with the winner advancing to the November general election against Democrat John Barrow.

View of presidential candidate Franklin Delano Roosevelt shaking hands with an unidentified farmer during a campaign visit to Georgia in October 1932. Alvin L. Belle Isle, a prominent Atlanta businessman, is the driver beneath the handshake. Photo credit: Kenan Research Center at the Atlanta History Center.

Belle Isle’s website for months touted his entrepreneurial heritage, saying his “great grandfather operated numerous companies including Belle Isle Motors and the first taxi service in Atlanta.”

But a distant cousin produced evidence that David Belle Isle is not descended from Alvin L. Belle Isle, the founder of Belle Isle Motors, the Yellow Cab Company and other businesses. David Belle Isle’s great-grandfather was Alvin Belle Isle’s brother, Robert E. Belle Isle, according to obituaries, family trees and news articles.

The Hands-Free Georgia Act takes effect July 1.

The candidate didn’t respond to a phone call seeking comment Tuesday, but he previously said in an interview that he believed Alvin Belle Isle was his great-grandfather based on what he had been told as he grew up.

“I’m not even putting a thought into my family history,” Belle Isle said Monday. “Everything I know about my family tree has been passed on orally. When I get through this runoff, I would be happy to take a look at it. I don’t think I’m winning any votes based on who my grandfather or great-grandfather was or wasn’t.”

Belle Isle’s website now says his family has been “part of the fabric of Georgia” for six generations, and it no longer mentions his great-grandfather.

The distant cousin who discovered the inaccuracy on Belle Isle’s website, Bob Browne, said Belle Isle created a false family narrative to boost his political campaign. Browne, 83, is the oldest surviving grandchild of Alvin Belle Isle, who was also the president of the Atlanta Convention and Visitors’ Bureau.

View of presidential candidate Franklin Delano Roosevelt (rear of car far right) waving to a crowd in Atlanta during a campaign visit to Georgia in October 1932. In his car, left to right, rear seat, are Georgia Senator Richard B. Russell, Jr.; Hugh Howell, chairman of the Georgia state democratic committee, and Roosevelt. In the front, left to right, are Mayor James Key, James Roosevelt, the nominees' son, and driver Alvin Belle Isle, an Atlanta businessman. Photo credit: Kenan Research Center at the Atlanta History Center.

“He has no right to the family business heritage which he is claiming to help his election,” said Browne, who lives in Flower Mound, Texas. “He’s just flat lying. That’s what most people hate the most about politicians. It’s like the sewer.”

Browne, a retired Atlanta investment banker, said his objection to Belle Isle has nothing to do with politics. Browne said he’s concerned with preserving the legacy of Alvin Belle Isle, whom Browne knew as a child before he died in 1950.

Browne contacted Belle Isle and Raffensperger about the inaccurate website weeks ago but never received a response. The AJC also emailed Belle Isle about the website June 4 after talking with Browne.

Raffensperger, the CEO of a specialty contracting and engineering design company, said Belle Isle should have corrected his website once he learned the truth about his family history.

“We can all sometimes make mistakes, but when you’re presented irrefutable information that shows that you do not have the correct information, and you refuse to act on that and correct your mistakes, that really goes to your basic integrity,” said Raffensperger, who represents the Johns Creek area.

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