By Robert Schlesinger

Sen. John Kerry's (D-Mass.) office has denied an article in a Boston newspaper article that reported that the senator is overhauling his staff in response to complaints about his performance.

A Kerry spokesman said Monday that "the newpaper's premise was just off."

The new team includes Richard Breyers, a former staffer for the late Sen. John Heinz (R-Pa.), who has joined Kerry as legislative counsel (Kerry is married to Heinz's widow). Jodi Grant, former general counsel to the Senate Budget Committee, has taken over as staff director on the Senate Democratic Steering and Coordinating Committee. Kerry has also installed Patricia Forbes, most recently of the Small Business Administration, as Democratic staff director of the Senate Small Business Committee. Kerry became the committee's ranking member this year.

The Globe quoted several Democratic members of the Massachusetts congressional delegation who were critical of Kerry. Rep. Barney Frank said, " I have been frustrated getting decisions out of John's office. It's like taking your Ph.D. orals." Other critical members included Rep. Joe Moakley and Rep. Richard Neal. Meehan pointed out that Frank and Moakley are senior members who have worked with Kerry for many years.

Michael Meehan, Kerry's press secretary (who is not new), disputed the assertion that these hirings are part of a shake-up. Meehan pointed out that Forbes' position "didn't exist" for Kerry until he became ranking member of the Small Business Committee, and the other two staffers left of their own volition.

But some Democratic staffers on the Hill say Kerry's staff has had a problem relating to local Democrats: "There were a couple of articles in the last month of the campaign that local mayors couldn't get Kerry or his staff on the phone," said one.

Noting that the 105th Congress is only a few months old, Meehan said, "This is an evaluation of how a team's performing in the first two minutes of the game. ... Sen. Kerry feels very comfortable with the work his staff has done in the first two terms."

Meehan noted that the only other impending staff change is the ongoing effort to fill the chief of staff position, which they hope to fill soon.

The Globe article came amid speculation that the senator is eyeing a run for the White House in 2000. Ironically, the Globe was kinder to Gov. William Weld (R-Mass.). The Globe ran a story directly above the one about Kerry, headlined, "Bill Weld: It was hard not to like him."