Just a month before the Philadelphia mayoral primary last year, the Carpenters' union in New Jersey used a circuitous route to funnel $725,000 to a group supporting Jim Kenney's candidacy.

The donation baffled local political observers, who did not know what to make of the out-of-state branch openly challenging Ed Coryell Sr., the longtime leader of the Carpenters in Philadelphia who was backing Kenney's chief rival, State Sen. Anthony Hardy Williams.

Now, given Coryell's unexpected ouster from union leadership, last year's primary plot twist highlights a power struggle involving unseen political forces, the movement of campaign funds from New Jersey to Washington, D.C., to the Philadelphia mayor's race and a simmering civil war between unions at the Convention Center.

Coryell, who has been kept on for now as a consultant to his union, declined to discuss his ouster from leadership.

But the story being discussed privately now among those at the intersection of politics and organized labor hits on three problems - the role of Coryell's son in the union, the long saga of labor strife for the union at the Convention Center, and the union's decision to buck much of the city's building trades unions in the primary election for mayor.

Those three issues are seen as the core of Coryell's problems, leading to his Feb. 3 ouster by Douglas McCarron, general president of the United Brotherhood of Carpenters.

This much is clear: Coryell didn't see it coming.

"Eddie was completely blindsided," said U.S. Rep. Robert Brady, chairman of the city's Democratic Party, a longtime friend of Coryell's, and still a member of his union.

Coryell, 70, had led the local Carpenters' union since 1981. The son of a union carpenter, he joined the union in 1967.

Coryell appeared eager to leave his son, Ed Jr., behind in his place when he retired.

That caused consternation inside the local union, where members worried about the son's approach, and at the national union, for the high-profile headlines his actions drew.

Coryell's son oversaw the union's members at the Convention Center before the carpenters lost the right to work there when their union did not sign a new customer-satisfaction agreement by a May 2014 deadline.

Coryell Jr. previously had been banned from the building for brawling with the center's labor broker.

The union did not go quietly when it was ousted in 2014, staging frequent protests and disrupting the Philadelphia Auto Show.

That prompted a federal racketeering suit by the center.

When representatives from the Democratic National Convention, which will be held here in July, visited the center in October, they, too, encountered protesting carpenters.

Coryell Jr. did not respond to requests for comment.

John Dougherty, leader of Local 98 of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, hosted a series of monthly meetings in 2014 where some, but not all, building trades union leaders discussed which candidate to back for mayor in 2015.

Kenney came away with that group's support.

Coryell's union went with Williams, who ultimately finished a distant second to Kenney.

Coryell's decision to back a losing candidate for mayor, combined with his New Jersey colleagues' strengthening political ties with building trades unions in Philadelphia, left him looking vulnerable.

Those ties can be seen in the funds the New Jersey carpenters sent across river to benefit Kenney, Dougherty's choice.

The $725,000 from the New Jersey Carpenters Fund for Growth and Progress was sent in two checks - $250,000 on April 21 and $500,000 on May 1 - to the Turnout Project, which registered with the IRS as a nonprofit political organization in Washington the day the first check arrived.

The Turnout Project sent $225,000 on April 23 and $500,000 on May 1 to Building a Better Pennsylvania Fund, a political action committee closely linked to Local 98.

A spokesman for Dougherty last year explained the New Jersey union money as follows: "The international Carpenters union clearly understands that John Dougherty is consistently on the right side of the issues, and they want to work with him."

Among other contributors to the Turnout Project was Parker McCay, a New Jersey law firm led by Philip Norcross. His brother, George Norcross, is a South Jersey political power broker and former part-owner of the company that publishes the Inquirer.

George Norcross met privately with Kenney the night of the primary. Kenney was listed as a featured guest at a September fund-raiser for Norcross' brother, U.S. Rep. Donald Norcross, a Democrat who represents New Jersey's First District.

Kenney, through a spokesman, says he never asked about the New Jersey Carpenters union money and "knows nothing about that."

Williams said he had expected the New Jersey carpenters to support him and met with Norcross before the primary to seek his support in the race.

"It didn't sound like he was leaning toward anybody," Williams said.

Williams chalks it all up to a "new alignment of relationships" with the Local 98, Norcross, and the New Jersey carpenters.

A political source familiar with the various players said Norcross and the New Jersey carpenters were banking goodwill with the Philadelphia building trades in case Donald Norcross decides to run for the U.S. Senate.

That theory is bouncing around in political circles on the Philadelphia side of the Delaware River.

Troy Singleton, a New Jersey lawmaker and assistant to the executive secretary-treasurer of the Northeast Regional Council of Carpenters, said the union did not oust Coryell.

Instead, he describes the leadership change as part of a "massive consolidation of various disparate locals and regional councils" that has been going on for two decades.

New Jersey Senate President Stephen Sweeney, who serves as vice president of the International Association of Ironworkers, said that Coryell had done "a very good job," but that the Carpenters union "business model has been a lot of consolidation."

Asked whether the New Jersey carpenters were trying to build political relationships across the Delaware River, Sweeney said: "Obviously they did build a relationship. They gave the mayor a lot of support. For years, I know the carpenters had relationships with Kenney and everyone else over there."

215-854-5973@ByChrisBrennan