Democratic National Chairman Paul Kirk announced Monday he would not seek a new term, setting the

stage for what could be a heated, ideologically driven battle for control of the party's hierarchy.In a statement, Kirk, who assumed the chairmanship after the 1984 election, said his aim during his four years was "to give something back and to leave something better than existed before I was given the honor and the opportunity to serve."

"If it can be recorded that . . . something was given back and some small mark for the better was left . . . then I will leave satisfied that my purpose was also fulfilled," Kirk said.

His departure is certain to escalate what had already been viewed as a tough struggle to head the party, which is trying to determine why it has lost five of the last six presidential elections. A successor is to be chosen when the national committee meets Feb. 9-10.

Among the leading candidates are Rick Wiener, who is leaving his post as chairman of the Michigan Democratic Party, and attorney Ron Brown, who ran Jesse Jackson's operation at July's national convention.

Wiener wasted no time jumping into the fray, announcing his intention to seek the chairmanship even before Kirk dropped out.

Sources close to Kirk told the Boston Globe he based his decision solely on personal concerns. It was widely known that his wife, Gail, preferred that he step down, the Globe said.

Kirk, who took over head of the party after the 1984 presidential election, turned down several requests from leading Democrats that he remain on the job, the newspaper said.