In the midst of a takeover battle launched by Washington's Haft family, Dayton Hudson Corp. yesterday announced that its president and chief operating officer, Boake A. Sells, had resigned to assume the chairmanship of another large retailer.

The announcement, in the midst of the retailer's weighing the Haft family's $6 billion bid for the company, took Wall Street analysts by surprise.

Dayton Hudson officials yesterday emphatically denied that Sells' resignation is related to the takeover bid. "Sells has always wanted to be a chief executive officer and run his own company, and now he has his chance," said Ann Barkelew, Dayton Hudson's vice president for corporate public relations. The announcement was made yesterday because Sells' departure was beginning to leak out to the public, she said.

{Knight Ridder reported that in a telephone interview, Sells said he was first contacted about the new job several weeks before the takeover threat emerged in June and would have accepted sooner, but for the threat.

{"A large part of me wanted to stay and fight it out with Ken Macke and the others here," Sells said.}

Ever since the Hafts first expressed interest in Dayton Hudson, the company has made it clear it wants to remain independent. Last June, just days after the Hafts first approached corporate officials, Dayton Hudson won emergency state legislation making it harder for any company to buy a Minnesota firm through a hostile takeover. Last week after the Haft's submitted their bid, Dayton Hudson said simply that the bid would be considered by the board of directors but "no one should assume that any transaction will result."

Although Dayton Hudson declined to say where Sells, 50, is going, it issued a statement saying he will become chairman and chief executive officer of "a large American retail organization in which he will have an important equity position."

Robert Haft, president of Dart Group Corp., said yesterday, "We're sorry Mr. Sells is leaving. ... However, no one had to leave Dayton Hudson to get an equity stake."

Haft emphasized that Dart's offer includes "a meaningful ownership interest" for Dayton Hudson's management and key employers. He said all terms are open to negotiations.

Financial analysts yesterday speculated that Sells may be going to Allied Stores Corp., which just underwent a huge restructuring after Canadian real estate developer Robert Campeau bought the company for $3.5 billion. Sixteen Allied divisions have been sold, including Washington's Garfinckel's chain, and what remains -- Brooks Brothers, Ann Taylor, Jordan Marsh and The Bon -- has had no chairman running the company since the previous chairman resigned earlier this year.

Allied officials could not be reached for comment.

Sells announcement came after the New York Stock Exchange closed. In trading yesterday, Dayton Hudson shares climbed by $2.25 to close at $59.25